Music Reviews

Jon Irabagon, John Hegre & Nils Are Drønen: “Axis” LP/CD

irabagon-axisI’ve been venturing down a free jazz rabbit hole of my own making in recent weeks, which is something I’ve dabbled in occasionally over the past 25+ years but rarely with any regularity nor staying power. Just so happens that this exceptional new platter from Norwegian-American trio Irabagon, Hegre and Drønen arrived precisely when my receptors were most tuned to ingest it, and man, what a melting slab of intoxicating free wailing it is. I’ve given it the once-over several times now, and it reveals more with each playing. It’s feeding a true holy-grail quest for more recorded savagery from these guys on my part, though it’s pretty clear this is their first time recorded in this communal set-up.

We’re talking two tracks, one recorded in Berlin 2013 and the other in Fukuoka, Japan in early 2015. “Berlin” is a master burner that starts out quite slow, mournful and seemingly wholly structured, with true abrasiveness only starting to creep in around the sixth minute. Then, in the eighth minute a switch is flat-out flipped, and it all goes haywire. It’s free, squirting saxophone and rattling, scattered drum, all underpinned by Hegre’s soaring guitar, which sometimes functions as a rumbling near-bass, but more often as a building, tension-coiling backdrop that sounds less like guitar & much more like shimmering electronics.

It’s a pretty dizzying piece, clocking in at just under 18 minutes in full. “Fukuoka” is truly free throughout, but it admittedly takes a while to lift off. It’s cut through with loads of squeaks and plucks and sputtering, maintaining a moderate, minimal tone throughout with Irabagon’s sax bursting out painfully in spots. Ultimately, the thing transitions to an absolutely frantic final few minutes, with Drønen a total wild man on percussion, and the whole thing reeking of madness and amphetamines.

“Axis” is a super-flexible and boiling bit of free jazz skronkery that once again points to Norway as one of our planet’s improvisational ground zeroes. You can learn more about it and take a listen on Rune Grammofone’s site.


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