Reviews Absolute Zero

Saxophonist Jon Irabagon’s playing is a treat on this recording with RED trio members Hernani Faustino and Gabriel Ferrandini. His sax work is restained and searching at times and scorching and scathing at others throughout this focused but free program. Unlike the hearty swinging from the get go, on say his album Foxy or the recent 3Dom Factor, the approach to playing here begins more introspective and evolving, gelling as the songs progress, reaching moments of kinetic cohesion, only to be pulled back to start all over again.

The opening ‘States of Matter’ starts slowly, builds to an intense climax, not made of volume but of restraint, that soon devolves into just sound of Irabagon’s breath through his mouthpiece. Ferrandini’s percussion work shadows and pulsates as he deftly fills the many spaces in the sparse, but not lacking, instrumentation. Faustino’s bass kicks off ‘Nova’ in a stately spacious manner, then Irabagon enters with a keen wail. He works the microtones and the upper registers of his horn almost sounding he is pushing through some deep pain. The duo plays through the tension beautifully and when the percussion finally joins lightly, a certain peace has been achieved.

The last track, ‘Spacetime’ is another exercise in intensity as Irabagon plays a circular motif that never lets up as the tension slowly builds. By the end, Ferrandini’s unique rhythmic patterns have meshed so thoroughly with the sax and bass that it is hard to distinguish an individual in the group (metaphorically speaking).

Absolut Zero, is hardly the unbelievably cold temperature to which the title refers, rather it is a warm and layered achievement.

Paul Acquaro


Jon Irabagon’s membership in Mostly Other People Do the Killing should testify to the saxophonist’s unpredictability and considerable flexibility of style, but it may not quite cover all that he was up to in 2009. It was the year he made his most conservative CD, The Observer, for Concord, part of his reward for winning the 2008 Thelonious Monk Saxophone Competition. It was a solid mainstream modern session with Kenny Barron, Rufus Reid and Victor Lewis providing allstar support. A few months later in Lisbon, Irabagon went into a recording studio with bassist Hernâni Faustino and drummer Gabriel Ferrandini and recorded Absolute Zero, an hour-long set of seven pieces, each attributed to the three musicians and accordingly sounding like free improvisation. It’s likely Irabagon’s most demanding set to date, even when one considers the 78-minute tenor extravaganza Foxy.

Irabagon sticks to his alto here and plays within a very specific lineage of the instrument in free jazz: the corrosive. It’s the one that begins with Jackie McLean (most specifically of Let Freedom Ring vintage, where the slightly-out-of-tune hard-edged McLean sound is complemented by the upper register squeal); continues with Giuseppi Logan and early Charles Tyler; is complemented by the Sun Ra alto saxophonists Danny Davis and Marshall Allen; then jumps ahead to a recent pinnacle with Jean-Luc Guionnet on recordings like Bird Dies. Irabagon’s notes are often yips and cries and they’re always bending away from anything that might suggest concert pitch. The melodies he constructs are often just a few notes, microscopic, fragmentary phrases that are repeated and contorted, bending out of shape in the same gesture that repeats them, sometimes with circular breathing to keep the process of disintegration continuing further.

The trio couldn’t be better matched. Faustino and Ferrandini are capable of an infernal power, since evidenced by their work in RED trio and great invention, apparent particularly in RED trio collaborations with John Butcher and Nate Wooley. From the opening phrases of “States of Matter”, with Faustino bowing a complementary circular pattern, the entire movement of the music appears to be going backwards, as if it must insist from the outset that its movement will be eccentric or will not be at all. That sense of insistence may change direction, but it’s always apparent in one form or another, even when things slow down to what might be called a ballad tempo. By the end of it all on “Spacetime”, Irabagon’s elemental trills and triplet rhythms are still etching themselves indelibly, the trio delineating a terrain that is at once oddly toxic and strangely refreshing.

Stuart Broomer


Saxophonist Jon Irabagon never fails to bring the sound of surprise on his albums, no matter what the format. From the glorious mayhem of the collective band Mostly Other People Do the Killing through his solo and support roles, he is relentless in his pursuit for new venues for music. This is a collectively improvised session from 2009 featuring Hernani Faustino on bass and Gabriel Ferrandini on drums. This is a recording that grows on you, as they eschew a lot of the traditional themes and melodies of jazz to develop their own texture and rhythm. Irabogon expands his playing slowly on this recording, moving between several different saxophones. He will start with some probing and almost tentative playing, before moving his saxophone playing into swirling and swooping music that sounds free, but well controlled. The improvisations on this album have names that are drawn from science like “Cosmic Distance” and “Spacetime” and the playing by the musicians echoes this approach. The trio plays with a free feel within those structures and Faustino and Farrandini weave wide open textures for Irabagon to improvise from. They are co-leaders as well, building their own approach to the music that engages the trio in collective improvisation. The group internalizes a common vocabulary that can deal with these structures and freedoms and build from them very quickly.  Tim Niland


If you are as extraordinarily talented as saxophonistJon Irabagon, probably best known from his tenure in the gloriously irreverent Mostly Other People Do the Killing, then you might occasionally need to set yourself challenges. He’s done it before, on Foxy (Hot Cup, 2010), where he undertakes a relentless examination of a theme from every conceivable angle over 78 uninterrupted minutes. In this instance the gauntlet he has thrown down for himself seems to be to construct something meaningful via the medium of circular breathing and overblown histrionics. Few can have investigated the techniques with as much gusto.

It’s a test not only for the reedman, but for his bandmates, here comprising the Portuguese pairing of bassist Hernani Faustino and drummer Gabriel Ferrandini, from the acclaimed RED trio. It’s a testament to the ingenuity of all three that they find so many ways to create a listenable experience from such narrowly defined source material. Irabagon frequently hits on and builds from reiterated motifs, barely playing an uninflected note without it heading off-piste, in an exhibition of carefully controlled distortion. As expected Faustino and Ferrandini mesh tightly, the bassist’s powerful tone combining well with the drummer’s inventive tone color play.

However one drawback of the saxophonist’s tactics is that the potential for interaction is at times reduced to one way traffic: it’s much easier for drums and bass to respond to the saxophone than vice versa. Possible responses can be to mirror the reedman’s continuous line or pursue a separate unrelated path. Both options are thoroughly explored. Faustino’s droning arco echoes Iragagon’s busy alto on “States Of Matter,” while his insistent riff recalls the hornman’s repeated phrases on “Nova.” At the other extreme on “Crust,” the tumbling bass/drums interplay becomes increasingly captivating in contrast to the slowly modulating upper register saxophonics. At best, as on the assertive free interchange of “Cosmic Distance” or the frantic “Degrees Of Freedom” featuring a tour de force outpouring from Irabagon, the collective high wire performance is exhilarating. John Sharpe


NY-based sax player Jon Irabagon is best known as co-founder and member of “revolutionary free-bop band” Mostly Other People Do The Killing (their “Live In Coimbra” is full of fun and energy, an excellent parody on Jarrett-like boring arrogant chamber jazz). Irabagon’s solo albums are more experimental, and as a rule are not such an easy listen.

To say the truth, I had a difficult time with “Absolute Zero”. After the few first spins I felt like the music on this album is too monotonous, repetitive and sounds more like a blueprint, rather than a final product. The next CD in my player was the new excellent Danish sax player Lotte Anker’s album “Birthmark” – featuring her new trio with two Portuguese musicians; pianist Rodrigo Pinheiro and double bassist Hernâni Faustino (both members of RED trio). I was really impressed by their collaboration on this album and then I remembered that Irabagon’s musical partners on “Absolute Zero” are the same double bassist Hernâni Faustino and third RED trio member drummer Gabriel Ferrandini. Soon I returned back to listening to Irabagon’s new work, and with every spin the album grew up in me.

Now, after many repetitive spins I feel I got what his music is and I enjoy it more and more. Its not way too complex, dissonant or too much “out”, this album is kind of modern “Out To Lunch”: hard-bop rooted free improvisation without melodic lines or tunes, but at the same time quite emotive, even lyrical in moments, a work of very impressionistic texture with lot of subtle rhythmic constructions and clever and intelligent sharp sax soloing. Not too noisy or screaming, this music is very progressive by its nature showing that there are so many different ways in modern non-conformist jazz. Most probably this album requires repetitive listening, but with every next spin it will grow in you!

Great music for your head and your heart.

Slava Gliozeris–absolute-zero-with-hernani-faustino-gabriel-ferrandini.aspx


Vencedor do prémio “Thelonious Monk International Saxophone Competition” de 2008, Jon Irabagon é um saxofonista virtuoso que vem trilhando um caminho inigualável, desde o “mainstream” mais conservador até à improvisação total. Na condição de líder editou já meia dúzia de discos, entre eles os aplaudidos como The Observer e Foxy (este, também uma das melhores capas irónicas do jazz contemporâneo). Integra ainda os quintetos de Dave Douglas e Mary Halvorson e faz parte do quarteto Mostly Other People Do The Killing, que nos últimos anos tem desbastado sem vergonha o seu jazz hiperactivo e multi-referencial (até gravaram um disco ao vivo em Coimbra).

Hernâni Faustino (contrabaixo) e Gabriel Ferrandini (bateria) representam dois terços do RED Trio, um dos mais originais e premiados trios de piano da cena actual. Improvisadores vibrantes, Faustino e Ferrandini formam uma secção rítmica intensa e imprevisível, que tem construído um património musical sólido – notabilizando-se as parcerias com convidados de luxo como John Butcher e Nate Wooley.

Gravado em Lisboa, este disco editado pela polaca Not Two Records regista o encontro da dupla rítmica portuguesa com o saxofonista americano, tendo como território comum a improvisação absoluta. Desde logo sobressai a versatilidade do saxofone alto de Irabagon, que aqui desfila uma imparável torrente de ideias. Faustino e Ferrandini acrescentam bons pormenores individuais, mas é sobretudo no fluxo da comunicação comum que o colectivo é favorecido.

O trio revela uma rara facilidade de entendimento e consegue espontaneamente construir monumentos sonoros estáveis, que crescem de forma coerente. Não só é de aplaudir o fulgor imaginativo de Irabagon, que aparenta ser infinito, como também aos parceiros de ritmo, que se revelam fundamentais para a solidez desta imensa arquitectura sonora.

Nuno Catarino


Não é novidade nem será a última vez – até porque disso resultam discos como o presente. Nas suas passagens por Portugal, algumas delas repetidas ao longo dos anos, grandes músicos de outros países vão tendo a oportunidade de tocar com portugueses e de gravar esses encontros, seja no palco ou em estúdio.

É este último o caso: membro do grupo Mostly Other People Do the Killing, no qual contracena com um génio do trompete, Peter Evans (o que quer dizer que, sendo menos conhecido, está muito claramente à sua altura), o saxofonista Jon Irabagon formou projecto com os dois propulsores do RED trio, Hernâni Faustino e Gabriel Ferrandini. O (esperemos que só o primeiro) desfecho está aqui: “Absolute Zero”.

Um título que nos leva ao engano, pois não se trata propriamente de música minimalista. Momentos há, sem dúvida, em que a regra do jogo é a contenção, mas quando a coisa aquece, a introspecção evoluindo para bolhas de intensidade prestes a rebentar – prestes, porque tal nunca chega a acontecer, tudo voltando à forma inicial –, ficamos com uma “fire music” integralmente improvisada.

Estando aqui registado o melhor Irabagon solista dos últimos tempos, o essencial deste disco está noutro factor sem o qual, simplesmente, a improvisação não funciona: coesão de grupo. Os três músicos estão tão colados que o que verdadeiramente importa seguir são as suas interacções. Para quem ainda pensa que o jazz e a música improvisada se definem pelo virtuosismo individualista, prova-se nestas faixas que a sua principal virtude está no estabelecimento de um enfoque colectivo e colectivista da criação musical.

As distensões e os relaxamentos de “Absolute Zero” não se fazem, necessariamente, por tocar menos, mais suavemente ou com uma diminuição do volume sonoro. Basta que Irabagon retire o bocal do saxofone para se concentrar no sopro, que Faustino pegue no arco para um trabalho harmónico e que Ferrandini substitua ritmos quebrados por texturas alheadas do tempo para que a descompressão se proporcione.

É a abstracção que regula a energia, não o recurso a abordagens líricas. E no entanto… eis que o lirismo se manifesta, enquanto “carácter de subjectividade e sensualidade da expressão”, tal como se lê nos dicionários.

Rui Eduardo Paes  


Tomando por certo um lapso tipográfico na palavra absolute, será no mínimo tentador sugerir que, à primeira vista, a aproximação de Jon Irabagon a dois terços do RED Trio contraria, de facto, essa noção de ‘zero absoluto’. Mas, ainda que se referindo à temperatura de menor valor entrópico – numa inversão simbólica da mais comum alegoria na ‘improvisação livre’ -, não será inapropriado, no âmbito desta ação, relembrar o que a mecânica quântica apelida de ‘estado fundamental’ ou, no limite, o que promulga a Terceira Lei da Termodinâmica. Isto é, o extremo agora invocado entende-se enquanto um ponto de partida para a identificação da substância transformável e, quiçá, para a ilustração metafórica de um princípio de ‘maximização’ que, também no universo, se considera espontâneo. Trata-se de um impulso conceptual para a compreensão daquilo que, muitas vezes neste contexto, está sujeito aos imponderáveis que derivam da negociação de sensibilidades. E, nessa medida, a receção a estes sete temas gravados em Lisboa a 19 de outubro de 2009 prova-se influenciada por qualificativos retirados à física, à astronomia ou à geologia. Fala-se aqui – em ‘Crust’, ‘States of Matter’, ‘Nova’ ou ‘Parallax’ – de crostas planetárias, nas fases da matéria, na cataclísmica explosão das estrelas, na posição dos objetos celestes, no espaço-tempo, enumeram-se parâmetros de variação sistémica e promovem-se alusões ao estudo da relatividade. Pode não ser mais do que uma adenda ou um resíduo de importância paratextual, mas à luz destes significados aceita-se a ocasional saturação motívica em Faustino, a obsequiosa mimese de Ferrandini e a autonomia discursiva de Irabagon. Ou melhor, apesar dessas tendências, por aí se percebe que há sempre quem na música saiba para onde vá mesmo quando não parece haver caminho a seguir. Nunca foi outra a ‘arte do trio’, e este sabe-o bem. João Santos – Expresso



Le trio formé par Jon Irabagon (as), Hernani Faustino (b) et Gabriel Ferrandini (dm) se positionne résolument autour de la technique du souffle continu du saxophoniste américain, qu’il maîtrise à la perfection. Il enclenche de somptueux tourbillons aléatoires en proie à l’émiettement, des textures musicales qui se délitent et s’étiolent dans l’instant. Faustino lui répond volontiers à coups d’éléments parasites émaillant son propre jeu, Ferrandini s’ingénie à son tour à dénicher de multiples trouvailles d’enrichissement des timbres. Car la force du trio tient autant du travail sur la matière sonore et de ses altérations que de l’étroite cohésion qui unit les musiciens. Les improvisations ne se jouent pas sur la durée, mais l’intensité mise en branle entrouvre des perspectives abyssales. Marc Sarrazy – Improjazz 


Featuring Jon Irabagon on alto sax, Hernani Faustino on double bass and Gabriel Ferrandini on drums. Over the last few years, young saxist Jon Irabagon has been gaining more recognition with a number of fine discs as a leader, a collaborator (with Barry Altschul, Mary Halvorson, Dave Douglas & John Yao) or as a member of Mostly Other People Do the Killing. Since Mr Irabagon is one of the best and most ambitious saxists in NY, he is well-deserving of the accolades. Mr. Irabagon currently plays in several trios with Barry Altschul & Joe Fonda and Mick Barr & Mike Pride. Here is another formidable trio.
Both rhythm team members, Faustino & Ferrandini, can be found on two different Clean Feed discs with the RED trio and the Nobuyosu Furuya Trio. This sounds like a fully improvised disc and it is pretty focused and amazing. Mr. Irabagon concentrates on alto and sounds particularly inspired. This is a studio date and the sound is exceptional. The trio swirl tightly together casting off quick layers of lines. They move from explosive to restrained yet remain always focused and inspired. There is a section where Irabagon bends every note slightly for a long section, something that John Zorn and Jim Hobbs have mastered after a great deal of work and obviously no small feat. This year seems to be the year of Jon Irabagon and this disc is yet another feather in his large cap or headress.  Bruce Lee Gallanter, Downtown Music Gallery