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Jon Irabagon Trio "It Takes All Kinds" Interview

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by Samuel Weinberg

In recent years saxophonist Jon Irabagon has firmly established himself as one of the most versatile and distinguishable musicians of his generation. Irabagon plays in settings as varied as the trio I Don’t Hear Nothing But The Blues with Mike Pride and Mick Barr, to the Dave Douglas Quintet, as well as the Mary Halvorson Quintet and his long-standing association with the iconoclastic Mostly Other People Do The Killing. But Irabagon has also produced a string of impressive records as a leader, the most recent of which is It Takes All Kinds, an incredibly impressively joyful and moving set, in which Irabagon plays with legends Barry Altschul…

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Jon Irabagon Trio "It Takes All Kinds"...
by Samuel Weinberg In recent years saxophonist Jon Irabagon has firmly established himself as one of the most versatile and distinguishable musicians of his generation. Irabagon plays in settings as varied as the trio I Don’t Hear Nothing But The Blues with Mike Pride and Mick Barr, to the Dave Douglas Quintet, as well as the Mary Halvorson Quintet and his long-standing association with the iconoclastic Mostly Other People Do The Killing. But Irabagon has also produced a string of impressive records as a leader, the most recent of which is It Takes All Kinds, an incredibly impressively joyful and moving set, in which Irabagon plays with legends Barry Altschul and Mark Helias. I caught up with Irabagon via email and you can read the interview below! ——————— On this trio record you’re joined with two real luminaries, Mark Helias and Barry Altschul. Can you talk about your history with them—perhaps both as a listener and a player—and how this trio came about? You made one record with Barry before right, Foxy? Can you describe what draws you to them, aside from their obvious musical virtuosity?  Barry and Mark are integral parts of some of the first jazz records that really moved me.  Dave Holland’s Conference of the Birds was one of the first recordings I owned, and Barry’s integration of percussion with his drum set really opened up different avenues of thinking and of orchestration for me.   In addition to his ESP-like interaction with Sam Rivers and Anthony Braxton, Barry’s take-no-prisoners attitude has always resonated with me.   In college, I joined a free improvish quartet led by guitarist Phil Mosberg, and we did several midwest driving tours.  Mark Helias’ album New School by his band Open Loose was on constant rotation during these trips, and we’d marvel at how we couldn’t tell where the composition ended and the improvisation began.  We strove for that kind of seamlessness in that group, and I still see the blending of composition into improvisation as an ideal.   I started playing with Barry about four years ago, and we did a long form swing record called Foxy that really focused in on the idea of constant energy and juxtaposition.  Since then though, I’ve been focusing more on composing with improvisation in mind, and because of that, Barry and Mark are the perfect rhythm section team for where I’m coming from compositionally right now.  In addition, they have been playing together since the early ’80s, and their  Can you talk about your concept for this record with respect to Foxy, which was an uninterrupted hard swinging track? Barry and I met on a gig at the Stone, and we started playing regularly after that.  Foxy was recorded pretty early on in our musical partnership; I had been doing gigs with several different drummers where we’d play one standard for the whole set, and Barry fit right into that idea easily, and brought so much life, energy and focus to it that I wanted to record it as soon as possible.  That became the record.  We’ve played in many different situations together since then, and as we became familiar with each other’s playing, the non-stop swinging idea seemed to limit where we could go.  At that point, I started writing the new material that is found on It Takes All Kinds to help our ideas expand even more.   Were the tunes on this record all written with this trio in mind? Can you talk a bit about your compositional process in general?  All of the tunes on It Takes All Kinds were written specifically for Mark and Barry.  I wanted to cover several different feels and genres as well as keeping the compositions themselves simple enough to weave in and out of as a group.  In other groups, I’ll write more specific events that need to happen all the time, but with these guys, I feel the best way is to hint at an area where the improvisation can take over.  Depending on who I am writing for, I’ll change up how much direction is given to the band. Another project that you’re involved with, which I love, is I Don’t Hear Nothing But The Blues with Mike Pride. I’m fascinated by this notion of motivic development within freely improvised pieces; returning to— and juggling!—various motifs that occur and reoccur throughout. Can you talk about this band? What do you like about playing with Mike? I had been playing with Mike Pride every week for months in different situations, some gigs and some jam sessions.  He was going to leave for an extended tour, and we wanted to document the work we had been doing.  I Don’t Hear Nothin’ but the Blues was the result of that recording, and since then, we’ve added Mick Barr to the mix.  Mike is such a musical force behind the drums.  You can hear the history of jazz as well as the history of metal, punk, modern classical, you name it.  He’s really listened to and absorbed a lot of music, and he can switch freely between them so rapidly.  That was part of the impetus for the band.   Another band that you’ve come to prominence in is Mostly Other People Do The Killing, and you guys seem to record fairly prolifically. What is it like to play in that band? A number of your records have come out on Moppa’s label, Hot Cup, so perhaps you can talk about that, too. Mostly Other People do the Killing is one of the first groups that I joined in New York City.  We did a lot of rehearsals when there were no gigs and we played a lot of gigs where there was no money and only a few people in the audience.  We could feel there was something special, some kind of risk taking and camaraderie that you don’t find too often.   It’s a very democratic situation where we all have equal say, and the parameters of risk-taking in that band is pretty wide.  It’s been great to be able to experiment and grow with the same group over the course of a decade.  Hot Cup is the label that most of Mostly Other People’s records are out on, as well as Foxy and a lot of other great CDs.  Moppa has done a great job putting out music that he truly believes in and that may not have access to bigger, more commercial labels.   I’ve seen you play a number of times in Mary Halvorson’s Quintet/Septet, but always playing alto, which you seem just at home on. What do like about playing in Mary’s band? What challenges do you find in playing alto, as opposed to tenor which you seem to play with some more frequency? I actually started on alto, and, even though I’m playing tenor more these days, it still feels like home to me.  Playing both is a true challenge.  They’re almost not even both saxophones— you have to approach both of them in completely different ways to get the results you want.  It’s definitely a labor of love to keep both horns going.  I’ve also been playing more soprano and even more sopranino these days, so it’s a struggle to find time to keep them all moving forward.  Mary’s been super supportive of me switching up horns or bringing different doubles into the mix to try things out.  Mary, just like Mike, has a wide range of influences, and she’s not afraid to use all of them, both in compositional and improvisational settings.  I love her unique writing and playing, and I love the spirit behind the improvising.  She’s also a great bandleader, and has put together a great mix of people and personalities in her trio, quintet and septet.   Any other projects you want to talk about? I’m recording a CD of my “jazz” tunes in a few days with Luis Perdomo, Yasushi Nakamura and Rudy Royston with Tom Harrell sitting in on a few tracks.  I’m really looking forward to having these tunes recorded; it’s kind of a follow up to my Concord CD from a few years ago called The Observer, but this band has been playing gigs and learning the music inside and out.  I’m going to release that on my own record label called Irabbagast Records, hopefully by the end of the year.  I’m also currently working on a solo sopranino saxophone record, so hopefully they’ll come out at the same time and really confuse some people! What’s some recorded music you’ve been listening to recently? I’ve been checking out a lot of different string quartets these days and woodwind quintets.  The Pharaohs’ Awakening has been on heavy rotation on my record player lately, and I went to see Alban Berg’s Wozzeck a few weeks ago, so I’ve been checking out more of his music as well.   What’s your ideal sandwich?   Wow.  This will sound gross and weird to most people, but when I was in Chicago, I had a burger that had bacon, a fried egg and peanut butter on a pretzel roll, and it was amazing. 
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Keir Neuringer "Ceremonies Out of the Air"
by Samuel Weinberg Philadelphia-based alto saxophonist Keir Neuringer has just released his new solo saxophone record, Ceremonies Out of the Air (New Atlantis). In its near 80-minute run-time, Neuringer taps into hitherto unexplored sonic territory throughout—eeking multiphonics, muttering soft and inaudible sounds, and sometimes exploding with emotive force and sustaining notes with a definite vigor. I was hooked immediately. Listening to the record—which is being released on two 12” LPs, CD and digital download—is rarely easy, but Neuringer’s improvisational ideas make it truly joyful. And this surely seems intentional, for this piece is dedicated to Neuringer’s mother, who recently died of lung cancer. In a zine that he wrote to accompany the piece, Neuringer describes his mother as the chief inspiration for this piece and focusing on breath and air throughout this piece’s performance. Neuringer says: “My mother breathed life into me, and I breathe that energy further into the music that I make. My work is based on the fragile power derived from my lungs, a power I access each time I play, a power I watched go out from the person who breathed it into me”.   With the aid of various extended techniques and sustained notes, Neuringer’s expressed purpose is felt strongly, both viscerally and emotionally. Now Neuringer is going on tour in the US and Canada in support of this record and I’ve posted all of the dates below. He is dividing the tour in half so as to play with the great William Parker, in Parker’s new composition “Flower in Stained Glass Window”. These performances will be at the First Unitarian Church in Philadelphia, the same place where Ceremonies was recorded. Here’s a track from Ceremonies for you to check out! <a href=”http://keirneuringer.bandcamp.com/album/ceremonies-out-of-the-air” data-mce-href=”http://keirneuringer.bandcamp.com/album/ceremonies-out-of-the-air”>CEREMONIES OUT OF THE AIR by KEIR NEURINGER</a>   CEREMONIES OUT OF THE AIR TOUR, part I: 4/22 NEW HAVEN: Never Ending Books w/ Matlock/Cretella duo 4/23 MONTREAL: La Vitrola w/ Clarinet Panic 4/24 OTTAWA: Gallery 101 w/ Clarinet Panic  4/25 KINGSTON: The Artel w/ Clarinet Panic 4/25 GUELPH: Silence 4/27 TORONTO: Oz Studios w/ CCMC, Clarinet Panic 4/28 BUFFALO: Hallwalls w/ Kevin Caine 4/30 ITHACA: Angry Mom Records 5/01 ALBANY: Upstate Artists Guild 5/04 PHILADELPHIA: Rotunda w/ Devin Hoff William Parker’s FLOWER IN STAINED GLASS WINDOW William Parker (bass), Muhammad Ali (drums), & chamber ensemble PHILADELPHIA: First Unitarian Church 5/11 w/ Odean Pope (tenor sax) 5/12 w/ Marshall Allen (alto sax) 5/13 w/ Dave Burrell (piano) 5/14 w/ Bobby Zankel (alto sax) CEREMONIES OUT OF THE AIR TOUR, part II: 5/15 DETROIT: Trinosophes 5/16 KALAMAZOO: Corner Record Shop tbc 5/17 DUBUQUE: Monk’s 5/18 IOWA CITY: Public Space One 5/19 CHICAGO tbc 5/20 COLUMBIA MO: houseshow 5/21 ST LOUIS: Cafe Ventana 5/22 LAFAYETTE IN: Black Sparrow tbc 5/23 BLOOMINGTON IN: houseshow 5/24 LOUISVILLE tbc 5/25 CLEVELAND: Guide to Kulchur
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Ben Wright Interview
by Samuel Weinberg After interviewing Jack Wright for the blog a few days ago, it only made sense to interview Ben Wright, his son and collaborator on his new record As If Anything Could Be The Same (Relative Pitch). Ben, who lives in Taos, NM, has been a natural and frequent collaborator with his father, playing in various contexts throughout the years. Ben thoughtfully answered some questions which can read below!  I’ve read that as a musician you began in punk-rock and found yourself as a free-improviser in large part due to your father. How was it growing up listening to this music? Can you talk a bit about your own history as an improviser? From a young age, I became accustomed to Jack practicing in the house.  There were periods in those days when he was quite ambitious and hungry to push his playing to new feats of emotional expression and physical stamina.  He found a way to make music the focus of his life, practicing for hours every day. I heard a lot of scales, intervals, and expressive experiments. As his music began to grow away from idiomatic playing characteristics of free jazz, the specifics of his practicing method adopted more atonal and arrhythmic characteristics. The sound of Jack practicing became the sonic background to living in his house. I certainly had my own music that I was listening to, so it didn’t occur to me at the time that I would eventually become attracted to improvising music.   As a teenager I was attracted to the spirit behind playing punk rock music.  I was more interested in the eclectic crazy stuff than the straight up hardcore/thrash, but in either case, the music was extremely accessible and driven by an energy that I felt was missing from the more commercially approachable genres of music. I played electric bass in a band with my brother playing drums called “Thirteen Weirdoes From the Yellow River”. With youthful exuberance, we gravitated towards hyper, weird, odd meter kind of stuff, and played most of the small rock clubs in Philadelphia at that time.  I was never that interested in jazz so I cannot count that as one of my direct influences, although I’m sure it’s in there somewhere. More recently, I have come to appreciate some of the jazz genre, but I am approaching music more through the direction of improvisation. I did some improvising with the electric bass, but never felt completely satisfied with it. Most of the bands I became involved with incorporated some degree of improvisational performance, but usually in a kind of rock context. I became really inspired with the idea of inventing music on the spot, and cultivated many relationships with like-minded musicians. The music would come in and out of grooves and themes while incorporating noisy and chaotic elements. The only pure improvisation at that time occurred while playing with my dad. Eventually, I bought an upright bass and immediately found the medium that made sense to me improvising in the purest sense. I studied bass at Community College of Philadelphia and at Temple University, both briefly. I enjoyed the training to get a handle on the technique and the skill necessary to play the upright the way I wanted to play it, but found the standard classical repertoire generally tedious and boring. The high point for me was playing in the full orchestra performing Beethoven’s 9th. I became interested in modern classical music, and especially sought out the weirdest ethnic world music I could find. It became easier to play with Jack on the upright, because it seemed we could speak a more similar language with our instruments. I also began straight up improvising with other musicians, even though it felt as if I was starting all over on a new instrument. Through the upright, it became easier to stay away from the groove-derived improvisation, and focus on a more sonically oriented context of improvisation. While still living in Philadelphia, my improvisational musical partners included Scott Moore, John Berndt and other Baltimorites, a group of Pittsburgh improvisers, Michael Aaron and assorted others. At that time, in the early 90’s, Jack had moved out to Boulder, so our musical interaction became more sporadic. Still, we began to tour together, with saxes and upright bass. Sometimes he would fly east, and we would drive together from there, making our way through New England, or heading West. I have lost track of how many times we did these kind of trips. In 1996, I moved out to New Mexico. I immediately fell in with a band called “Lords of Howling.” This was kind of an improv folk band at first, but gradually they moved in a more cohesive direction, therefore less interesting to my tastes. I started playing tuba and became involved in an improv marching band. Again at first we were more of a noise band, but then a repertoire of songs developed to accompany our innate desire for instant composition. That band, continued until recently. After a few years in NM, I began to seek other improvisers locally. I played a lot and a put out a cd with Kurt Heyl from Santa Fe, called “Gross Motor Music.” We toured some and played with other improvisers in the Santa Fe and Albuquerque community. I switched out my plywood bass for a beautiful sounding older solid wood bass, and felt that the change caused many more sounds to become available. I felt then and still do that this uprighteous bass allows me to truly dig in and uncover a vast array of sonic possibilities due to its rich sound and enhanced availability of frequency manipulation. The musical possibilities with Jack deepened, while we continued our musical growth through sporadic and intense playing and touring. Do you find that your improvisational connection with your father is stronger because he is your father, or is there a way to bracket that when playing? I believe that the connection is strong between my father and I not simply because he is my progenitor, but on another level, he is a trusted musical confidant. There is a lot of trust and a lot of experience playing together built up over the years. There is love shared between us, but I don’t think that necessarily allows us to play music together. It allows us to be patient, to travel together and enjoy our time together. Perhaps this results in a strong musical connection, but it is hard to separate it out or bracket it while in the act of playing. When we are making music together, I am aware of our relationship, but I don’t feel that this is the driving force of the music. I really strive for becoming completely present with the sound of the playing so it scarcely matters who (me included) is making it. However, I have felt that there is similar kind of urgency and rhythmic compatibility to our playing. This may be attributed to a father/son connection, but in the end I tend to associate it more with being truly open to each other and the experience of playing together. I don’t think that this ability to play together comes easily either. We both struggle with our own feelings and judgments and fears, and often times we are not in sync with our post performance analysis. We have had to develop our ability to communicate both with words and with sounds to sort through this confusion. It is still a work in progress, but of the musical collaborations in my life, it has remained unusually fruitful. Can you talk about the process by which this record was made? How did the idea to record a duo record come about? This album has been a long time in the making, at least as an idea. I think we wanted it to really capture the intimacy of our duo at its best moment. With this impossibly high standard, it became difficult over the years to stop and say, ok this is really it. We have made countless attempts at recording our duo. We were almost always pretty satisfied at the time of recording, but lacked the push to put it out to the world, probably because we always felt we could do it better. Whether or not that is true is debatable, but the essence of recording improvised music or even performing it live is attempt to capture a snapshot in time of an ongoing musical relationship that is forever changing. As the days, weeks, months, and years passed since every initial recording, it became harder and harder to go back and find the value in something back in time. There has always been the feeling that we had much more music ahead, so why take the time to fuss with that old stuff. I suspect that many earnest improvisers wrestle with the same dilemma. “As if Anything Could Be the Same” is an attempt to stop time and connect our efforts with the greater stream of current improvised music. I received the final cd in my mailbox, exactly one year since the day we recorded it, which also happened to be my birthday. The cd was recorded over two days, starting on December 31st 2012, and continuing on January 1st 2013. We recorded in my studio in Taos NM. One challenge to recording our duo is the relative volumes of the two instruments. We knew that mic bleed was going to be a problem, but opted for minimal separation to create the most comfortable playing situation. Improvisers are usually very touchy about the exact parameters that create an inspired performance, even though the common knowledge is that there is nothing that can be done. After the recording we felt pleased with our creation, but knew that the work had just begun. We did some editing to the recorded pieces, but only at the in and out points. There was no splicing or the inserting of parts of one performance into another. The effort was to give an accurate yet deliberate choice of selections from our duo. We haggled a bit over the particular choices, but in the end felt pretty agreeable to the selections. An old friend of Jack, Bob Falesch mastered the recording. He found the bleed frustrating to deal with, but in the end did a fantastic job of bringing out the best in the recorded sounds of the instruments. We are grateful to Kevin and Relative Pitch Records for the opportunity to release the recording. 4) What do you like about playing duo?  I will answer this in the positive and the negative. I like the focus of playing duo. It seems to lend itself to an intimacy of interaction. This can be a powerful experience and can lead to a direct sense of communication with the other player, but it can also backfire if there is a rift in the desires of the players. This is not to say that duo players need to be simpatico to make good music, but it seems that there should be some concurrence of intention. I actually prefer trio because with the third element, I feel there is a better balance between the personalities of the players. As you continue to add members to the group, the players feels less and less exposed, but also less able to direct the flow of the music. If the democratic urge is in place, the duo becomes either a debate or a synchrony, while with the trio, the individual is reduced to a minority, and the music becomes more of an implied agreement. The individuals more readily become encompassed by the whole. The duo with Jack results from the experience of playing with many other partners, on both of our parts. Even when we tour as a duo, we almost always find ourselves in situations performing with others at least for a time. You live in New Mexico, are you at all involved with any improvised music there? if so, what is it like? What do you enjoy about touring and playing elsewhere? I improvise quite a bit here in NM. There are groups of people here in Taos, and in Santa Fe, and Albuquerque that I play with, but the performance opportunities are a bit spotty. I play in a couple of different groups that get together sporadically to play and to perform. Wind Up Birds with Dave Wayne and Robert Muller is a free jazz group that started with a focus on the music of Horace Tapscott. We do our own arrangements of his compositions and explore the written in free space with our own personalities. The Rumble Trio is a group with Mark Weaver and Mike Balistreri. It is two basses and tuba, but we always play with a variable fourth member. This group has been going for over 10 years, with sporadic performances with many visiting and local musicians. I continue to make music with longtime partner Scott Moore. His improvisation is usually very theatrical and brings in other non-musical elements. I also play with many visiting improvisers, including Tatsuya Nakatani, Andrew Drury, Jeremy Drake, Andrew Lamb, Thollem McDonas, Paul Elwood, Kris Tiner, Kurt Heyl, Bob Marsh, and Bradford Reed, among others. I have been involved in promoting some concerts here in Taos involving visiting bands and musicians. My connections with these people have been cultivated through my travels elsewhere. I believe that travelling is really important to continuing these musical relationships and feeling a part of the continuum of improvisation present in the U.S. The touring also challenges me to continue working on my personal skills as a player. I often encounter other musicians, especially bass players that introduce me to techniques or different energies related to improvising on the bass. What’s some recorded music you’ve been listening to recently? Can - The lost TapesHorace Tapscott New Orleans Brass Bands Balkan Brass Bands The Z’s Music of East Africa (Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Burundi, Uganda) Bellyachers Listen, New Guinea, Steve Feld field recordings Zurna Dauli trios Honk Horn Bands of Ghana Sun City Girls Alan Lomax recordings, Romania, Prison Songs, Puglia Ethiopiques Trombone Shout Bands Leadbelly, Robert Johnson etc. Coltrane – Sun Ship Assorted Ethnic music from around the world
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