I have been listening a a bunch to Jerome Sabbagh in the past few days and I just wanted to say a couple of things about it before I hit the sack tonight.
Jerome Sabbagh - a French-born, NY-based tenor saxophonist and composer has an absolutely killin' band that plays a melodic grab bag of moods. Sabbagh has spent a good amount of time playing in the bands of Argentinean pianists Pablo Ablanedo and Guillermo Klein (who doesn't seem to have a website of his own at this moment).
Sabbagh originally came to my attention as a member of fellow Frenchman Laurent Coq's band on Coq's 2003 Sunnyside release, Like a Tree in the City.*
Sabbagh and his quartet have recently put out a 2nd album (available April 24 in the US) called "Pogo" following 2004's North (Fresh Sound New Talent). Pogo is available direct from the artist here and through a warehouse here). Pogo is on French indie Bee Jazz Records (distributed in the US by...you guessed it: Sunnyside).
Guitarist Ben Monder's sometimes sparse, sometimes dense, but mostly dark accompaniment and solos are a fitting foil to Sabbagh's bright tone and bouncy lines. Underappreciated bassist Joe Martin (seen very often at 55 Bar and on tour with Kurt Rosenwinkel among others) takes a very nice solo on the opening cut "Middle Earth" (a rarity these days - tunes with bass solos are usually buried deep within the album - I wonder why that is?). And rounding out the quartet is the young phenom out of the Eastman School, Ted Poor on drums (Poor also in the bands of Cuong Vu, Monder and somewhat surprisingly David Berkman - though not if you hear it) who keeps things consistently crisp throughout the recording.
Jerome's melodies on Pogo sometimes reach into poppy and jammy territory when it's almost as if you'd swear the saxophone is a human voice singing a melody or a guitar carving out a simple idea but with a great sense of confidence. This music, though mostly quietly subtle and subdued, begs a question which I frequently find myself thinking.
Can modern jazz appeal to general audiences outside the jazz-obsessed solely based on the merits of catchy melodies without words? Or are words a general prerequisite to get people to pay attention?" Especially when made by musicians who are privy to the last 30 or so years of music-making outside the jazz idiom?
The Bad Plus have arguably done this successfully, though their formula has also included hooking these rather elusive "other audiences" with covers of familiar tunes by dare I say "mainstream" acts (i.e. Nirvana, Rush, Blondie, Aphex Twin, Queen, etc.). Can a band achieve some kind of pop-like acceptance solely on the merits of their compositions without voice or lyrics? I would say in a different time under different circumstances, yes. But not in the current climate where commercial radio and even the indie movement (i.e. what they write about on Pitchfork and Stylus) is almost entirely driven by music with lyrics.
What are your thoughts?
Meanwhile, you can check out streaming samples of the utterly funky "Rooftops" and the medatative but catchy "Pogo" from Sabbagh's new album of the same name due April 24 here in the US.
* I should mention I met Laurent Coq for the first time in person at the Jazz Standard during IAJE and he handed me his newest CD (currently only available in France) called "Laurent Coq Blowing Trio." The band includes Coq on piano, Olivier Zanot on alto sax and David El-Malek on tenor sax and occasional vocals by Laurence Allison. I had it in my car for weeks and I should mention that it's absolutely KILLIN' and that you should go buy it now if you like good music - well worth the shipping costs. Or email Laurent for another less expensive solution at firstname.lastname@example.org.