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Hailed by the New Yorker magazine as having one of the top 10 jazz albums of 2006, alto saxophonist Aaron Irwin returns with his second Fresh Sound New Talent outing, Blood and Thunder. The music has an easy sophistication with strong melodies and interesting harmonies showcased in the seven original compositions. There are also two choice standards that share nicely with the other pieces. He is joined by both well renowned guitarist Ben Monder and saxophonist Chris Cheek. Also in the band are rising stars Ferenc Nemeth (drums), and Matt Clohesy (bass), as well as some beautiful playing by violinist Eliza Cho.
"Aaron Irwin Group, Blood and Thunder (Fresh Sound New Talent). In a tray card photograph, we see the 30-year-old alto saxophonist drinking a glass of milk and looking about eighteen. Irwin's compositions and arrangements have a concomitant freshness about them, and resourcefulness. His writing tends to make his quintet sound bigger. There is no piano; Ben Monder's guitar has the chording assignment. Chris Cheek's tenor sax adds a third melody voice. Both solo with economy and plenty of unexpected turns, as does Irwin. Matt Clohesy is the bassist, Ferenc Nemeth the drummer.
These musicians are in the thick of New York's young experimental-cum-mainstream jazz population. Irwin, a product of the impressive DePaul University (Chicago) jazz program run by Bob Lark, has adapted to the yeasty Manhattan/Brooklyn scene. His title tune has an appropriately ominous caste amplified by the harmonies expressed and implied in the interaction of the saxophones and the guitar. The melody line and harmonies of the country-sounding "Back to You" might have been written by Hank Williams. Irwin doesn't unveil the melody of "From This Moment On" until the final chorus. The collective and individual improvisations in the first five minutes take full advantage of the basic, good-natured harmonies that helped make the song one of Cole Porter's biggest latterday successes.
The saxophones and the guitar intertwine on "Little Hurts," reacting to one another's ideas in a sort of musical basket weaving until Monder takes over for a solo that manages to incorporate force, restraint and premonitions of uncertainty that are not entirely resolved before the track ends. "Sprung" is a pointillist melodic exercise on the harmonic pattern of "It Might As Well Be Spring." Its good humor spills over into the solos. The Bill Evans waltz "Very Early" glides along in character with its composer's intentions and features a chorus of improvisation by Clohesy that helps bring home why he's being much discussed among his contemporaries. Irwin adds Eliza Cho's violin for the last track, "Until We Say Our Last Goodbye," a composition so like a classic standard song that it all but demands a lyric.
The bloom of originality in Irwin's approach is fertizilized by his reach into the traditions of several branches of American music. If that becomes a trend among a young jazz generation that sometimes defeats itself by defying tradition, it can only benefit them and the music."
-Doug Ramsey -Rifftides / Artsjournal.com
"I musicisti coinvolti in questa incisione, in particolar modo gli ormai affermati Chris Cheek e Ben Monder e il meno noto Aaron Irwin, oltre a essere stati lanciati a livello internazionale dalla Fresh Sound/New Talent, vantano con la label catalana una lunga frequentazione testimoniata da numerose incisioni.
E logico quindi che Blood and Thunder si inserisca a pieno titolo nellestetica musicale delletichetta, da sempre in bilico tra tradizione e innovazione. Solo che in questo caso si è decisamente sbilanciati verso la tradizione, non tanto per la presenza di due vecchi standard targati Cole Porter e Bill Evans ma soprattutto per latmosfera old fashion che ammanta lintera incisione. Niente di male si obbietterà, operazione più che legittima si dirà, peccato che ad essere coinvolti sono musicisti che, proprio sul tentativo di sdoganare il cosiddetto mainstream attraverso una ventata di aria fresca, hanno costruito le proprie fortune.
E qui di aria fresca se ne respira ben poca. Perché Blood and Thunder (ma dove sono mai le forti tinte evocate dal titolo?) sembrerebbe un compitino ben svolto, tra valzerini innocui e dolci melodie dalle precise ed eleganti armonizzazioni, in cui tutto suona bene, a volte benissimo, ma tutto è senza palpitazioni, senza fremiti. Ed è un vero peccato perché la title track, unico brano che lascia il segno, riversa tre minuti e mezzo di splendida musica, una marea sonora che monta lentamente, con i fiati che liberano finalmente un po di energia, la chitarra acida che graffia, il ribollire delle percussioni che alimenta un crescendo rossiniano."
-Vincenzo Roggero -All About Jazz (Ed. Italia)
"This disc's title sounds like one of the current legion of thrash metal bandsmelody makers like Killswitch Engage, Lamb of God, and As I Lay Dying. In fact, alto saxophonist Aaron Irwin does do some pretty serious thrashing with tenor saxophonist Chris Cheek and guitarist Ben Monder on the turbulent title track. However, the rest of Blood And Thunder glows with an old school romanticismboth on stellar covers of Cole Porter's "From This Moment On" and Bill Evans' "Very Early," and on Irwin originals like "Back To You" and "The Wizard." (The latter tune enters with a rose between its teeth, looking for someone to tango with.) Cheek's quicksilver tenor folds into Irwin's mellifluous alto to create truly delicious harmony, and Monder's crackling guitar adds a 21st century texture to Irwin's classic visions. Overall, Blood and Thunder has a marvelous theatrical zeitgeist reminiscent of 1930s musicals: "Ain't we got fun!"
-J. Hunter -All About Jazz, USA