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Jon Irabagon live at Upstairs

Matthew Kassel
Staff Writer
matthew.kassel [at] mail.mcgill.ca

I expected saxophonist Jon Irabagon’s first set at Upstairs Jazz Club on Friday night, January 23, to be a whirlwind, an exercise in soloistic hypnotism. That’s because his latest album, Foxy (Hot Cup)—inspired in part by Sonny Rollins’s 1957 album, Way Out West—was just that: a dire, 78 minute extended improvisation on a sixteen-bar form.

But on that album, Mr. Irabagon had a trio, with drummer Barry Altschul and bassist Peter Brendler. At Upstairs, he was working with a quartet, including a fine assortment of Montreal jazz musicians: pianist John Roney, drummer Jim Doxas, and bassist Fraser Hollins, with whom Mr. Irabagon studied in the Master’s program at the Manhattan School of Music in the early aughts.

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2010, My Year in Jazz

Matthew Kassel
Contributing Writer
matthew.kassel [at] mail.mcgill.ca

I felt a bit intimidated when asked to write a list of my top five jazz albums for 2010. There were so many albums released this year that I didn’t listen to, and so many that I could have listened to if I had more money and time and knowledge. That limitation, I thought, might make my list incomplete, unworthy, ill-conceived.

I still wanted to make a list, and did. But I scrapped it—it didn’t feel right. And I thought, perhaps, I could make another sort of top five list.

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Rick Rosato, Gilad Hekselman and Ari Hoenig

Matthew Kassel
Contributing Writer
matthew.kassel [at] mail.mcgill.ca
Photo by Anthony J. Branco

Here in Montreal, you can see a good jazz show on any night of the week. But if you’re a thrill-seeker—like me—you might feel discouraged that clubs like the Village Vanguard, Birdland, the Jazz Standard or the Blue Note, just don’t exist here.

I probably could have stopped with the Village Vanguard, but I hope you get my point. Sure, we have a great jazz festival, but its best performances usually take place in stately theaters, and cost a lot.

I’m not complaining. I’m sure jazz enthusiasts in Fargo, ND or Eugene, OR would be quick to tell me how lucky I am. But notice how all the clubs I mentioned above are in New York. Montreal certainly has its own viable, self-sustaining jazz scene, but when a good New York musician comes through, it’s a special occasion.

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The Chris Potter Quartet at l'Astral

Matthew Kassel
Contributing Writer
matthew.kassel [at] mail.mcgill.ca

How important are names anyway? In modern, instrumental jazz, I’m not really sure. Names of tunes, I mean. If a tune is good, shouldn’t it stand on its own, name or no name? Saxophonist Chris Potter might say yes.