Jon Irabagon | Invisible Horizon

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Invisible Horizon

by Jon Irabagon

Adventurous improviser and saxophonist Jon Irabagon releases his most ambitious project yet, featuring the Mivos Quartet, Matt Mitchell on piano, and himself on sopranino and mezzo soprano saxophones.
Genre: Avant Garde: Modern Composition
Release Date: 

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  Song Share Time Download
1. Vignette for Mouthpiece-Less Sopranino Saxophone and String Quartet
6:18 $0.99
2. Invisible Guests: 1. West Wind
6:45 $0.99
3. Invisible Guests: 2. Heaven's Blessing
8:50 $0.99
4. Invisible Guests: 3. Benevolence, Sincerity and Devoutness
5:34 $0.99
5. Invisible Guests: 4. Red Four
9:55 $0.99
6. Invisible Guests: 5. The Dreamer
7:29 $0.99
7. Invisible Guests: 6. Catching the Fish at the Bottom of the River
6:19 $0.99
8. Vignette for Sopranino Saxophone and String Quartet
5:59 $0.99
9. Dark Horizon (Entrance)
4:35 $0.99
10. Dragonwort
5:01 $0.99
11. Forest and Field
3:51 $0.99
12. Holy Smoke
5:35 $0.99
13. Good Old Days (The Little Rascals Theme)
4:21 album only
14. Eternal Rest
4:52 $0.99
15. Half a World Away
4:48 $0.99
16. Dark Horizon (Exit Bow)
5:12 $0.99
Downloads are available as MP3-320 files.


Album Notes
An advance review by Chris Robinson in the 2019 fourth-quarter issue of Point of Departure:

Jon Irabagon
Invisible Horizon
Irrabagast 014-015

On first glance, each half of Jon Irabagon’s two-CD set Invisible Horizon wouldn’t seem to cohere. The centerpiece of the first disc, Invisible Guests, is a six-part suite for string quartet and piano that’s bookended by two pieces for sopranino saxophone and string quartet. The second, Dark Horizon: Live from the Mausoleum, is a solo recording of Irabagon playing the rare F mezzo-soprano. While the music, venue, instrumentation, and vocabulary of each disc is quite different, they are unified by the power of the mystical and the inanimate – what certain strands of contemporary anthropology and cultural theory would label the “more-than-human” – to influence the music.

Invisible Guests features Matt Mitchell – who seems to be playing piano for just about everybody at the moment – along with the Mivos Quartet (Olivia de Prato and Lauren Cauley Kalal, violins; Victor Lowrie Tafoya, viola; and Mariel Roberts, cello). Irabagon’s inspiration for the title suite is the game of mahjong and the superstitions, mystical aspects, and chance that shape the game. Each member of the quartet represents one of the game’s players, while Mitchell embodies the forces of luck and ill will that help or hinder the players as the game progresses. To write the piece, Irabagon videotaped a game of mahjong that he played with his family, after which he wrote musical themes depicting particular completed hands and leitmotifs signaling the fate and blessings that change the game.

What we find on Invisible Guests is an album that is full of spirit, life, and energy. The string writing on the suite draws on elements from twentieth-century classical styles, at times recalling Bartok and Ligeti. There is likely quite a bit of improvisation, and the fact that it is never quite clear what is improvised is both a tribute to Irabagon’s writing and the performer’s skill. The composition is episodic and conversational, with themes and ideas coming and going and passing throughout the ensemble. It would take numerous listens to parse out all the themes and leitmotifs and map their relations. At any given moment the players might be complimentary and supportive, at others combative and contentious. Mitchell’s role is immediately clear in the opening movement. When he appears at the five-minute mark with heavy, repeated chords – obviously embodying ill will – he picks up on the already nervous string lines and turns them upside down and sends them running for cover. Throughout he shapes the direction of performance, suggesting that spirits are as important, if not more so, to the outcome of mahjong than the players themselves. The piece is utterly captivating and evocative enough to be the score to a classic silent movie. The suite, along with the pieces for Irabagon and the Mivos Quartet that open and close the album, have a power and intensity that can only come from a full buy-in from each party, whether musician, spirit, or otherwise.

Irabagon recorded Dark Horizon in the Tomba Emmanuelle in Oslo, Norway. The mausoleum was built by the Norwegian painter Emanuel Vigeland (1875­–1948), who covered the inside walls with frescoes depicting all manner of scenes from life and death, many of which are quite bizarre and disturbing. The mausoleum and its thirteen seconds of natural reverb is just as important to this recording than Irabagon. The other “more-than-human” influence is Irabagon’s saxophone. Irabagon writes that different saxophones each have “their own spirits that power them. Each has volition and my job as a musician is to discover their directions, respect them, and meld them into my own visions of music.” He describes his F mezzo, which is pitched between an alto and a soprano, as “a stately spirit” that carries “a sense of wonder, awe, and continuous beauty ... She’s a fascinating, independent sprite.”

Even though Irabagon might be the only musician on the album, the music is the result of three, independent spirits interacting in real time. And it is a wondrous result. The F Mezzo has a rich, vibrant, sonorous sound that’s a bit more full-bodied than a soprano, yet just as lithe. Throughout the album Irabagon explores not just what his horn can do and where it wants to go, but what the mausoleum’s reverb is willing to give. From multiphonics, clucking flutter tonguing, pops, snaps, and squealing wails to lyrical lines that soak up silence, Irabagon explores the full range of saxophone sounds and techniques. The album opens with “Dark Horizon,” which has an incantatory vibe during which Irabagon feels the space out. On “Dragonwort” he tumbles out variation after variation of a few ideas reminiscent of Trane and Evan Parker. By the recording’s midpoint on “Forest and Field” and “Holy Smoke” Irabagon has gone as far out as out can go, often playing the horn without its mouthpiece. On the penultimate track, “Half A World Away,” he bends pitches back and forth, holding them long enough to where the reverberation produces tone clusters. It’s a masterful example of how to take advantage of the unique properties of the space. It is almost as interesting to focus on what the reverb is doing rather than what Irabagon is playing. At one point on “Eternal Rest” Irabagon is playing some buzzed, white noise and somehow, out of the reverb, comes a quiet saxophone tone, as if it is the echo of a sound that was never uttered. Who am I to say that it wasn’t the ghost of Vigeland haunting the recording? There were already a few spirits animating the proceedings, what’s one more?
–Chris Robinson



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