Monday, January 25, 2016

New York jazz saxophonist Aaron Irwin releases A Room Forever

Jazz saxophonist and composer Aaron Irwin's striking new album A Room Forever, features twelve original works of music, each of which is a reflection of one of the twelve published short stories by critically acclaimed West Virginian author Breece D'J Pancake.  Three noted New York-based musicians join Irwin on this powerful release: trombonist Matthew McDonald, bassist Thomson Kneeland, and guitarist Pete McCann.  "I have been working on this project with these guys for well over a year and have been so pleased with how the music has evolved over that time. These three musicians have such strong musical voices and were able to shape the music in a way that is both highly musical and uniquely personal. I couldn't ask for more."

Irwin talks about the inspiration behind the music. "Through a friend's recommendation, I picked up Breece Pancake's collection of short stories and was immediately drawn to his bleak, unflinching expression of lives' stubbornly hewn to their past.'  The struggles of these characters and the hollows of Pancake's native West Virginia reminded me of the receding farm communities I grew up with in central Illinois. As aptly put by Joyce Carol Oates in her 1983 review, I felt compelled to set these ideas to music as 'to make the past present.'"

Irwin's highly stylized music creates sonic landscapes that can best be described as a mixture of American folk music, avant-garde jazz and pastoral elements of classical music. The album begins eerily with the title track, A Room Forever, which has a haunting intensity that grows throughout, putting the listener on the edge of their seat. "The story in A Room Forever is a nightmarish scene that takes place on New Year's Eve, and I wanted to give the music a kind of disturbed Auld Lang Syne feel to it," Irwin notes. Each of the following pieces takes the listener on a different journey sometimes soaring, as Matt McDonald's elegant trombone playing does in The Way It Has to Be, and sometimes sweetly reflecting, as does Irwin's homey clarinet playing on Trilobites.

The chamber music-like instrumentation quickly draws the listener into each fragile and nuanced musical world, full of space and detail as in The First Day of Winter, which features the remarkable bass work by Thomson Kneeland. Guitarist Pete McCann has much to say on the dark and jarring Time and Again.  The album ends with the wonderful piece, The Mark, which leaves the listener seemingly suspended in air wanting more and grateful for the pleasure of the journey.

Breece Dexter John Pancake (1952-1979) was an American short story author and native of West Virginia whose hardscrabble landscapes and characters informed and influenced his writing. He has to his name only one posthumously published book of short stories after a life cut short at the age of 26. Pancake's stories lay out a world located in the hills of his home - "the pockets of neglected farm and mining country where people lose their livelihoods, their friends and lovers, their land and their birthrights, but remain stubbornly hewn in place," Critical praise for his work has been nearly universal with parallels drawn between his work and that of Flannery O'Connor, Sherwood Anderson, John Steinbeck, James Joyce, and Ernest Hemingway.

Critically acclaimed saxophonist, multiple woodwind player, and composer, Aaron Irwin has been a mainstay in the New York music scene for over 10 years.  Known as a "lyrical alto saxophonist and a compelling original composer" (Steve Futterman, New Yorker), Irwin is sought after in both the jazz and commercial worlds.  In addition to leading his own groups, Irwin has performed with many leading jazz voices in the New York jazz community including the Grammy-nominated group Darcy James Argue's Secret Society, Bob Sabin's Tentet, as well as pop performers Kristen Chenoweth, Rufus Wainwright, Josh Groban, and Idina Menzel.

A Room Forever is Irwin's fifth album as a leader.

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