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Music Review: Aaron Irwin Group – Blood and Thunder

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Alto saxophonist and composer Aaron Irwin unleashed his brand of multifaceted and gorgeous compositions with his 2006 debut Into the Light. Two years later, Irwin is back with a follow-up that expands on his musical vision.

Blood and Thunder is a thrillingly capricious showcase of Irwin’s songwriting talents and his sax playing. Seven of the nine tunes are Irwin Originals, with his graceful and prosaic songwriting talents put to full use. His group also tackles a Bill Evans tune and makes wonderful music with some classic Cole Porter.

At times, the Aaron Irwin Group functions like a band of desperados or musical outlaws.

Despite some rather strict compositions, there is an awful lot of freedom to roam. Chris Cheek’s tenor sax converses with Irwin’s alto, while guitarist Ben Monder makes hay in the background and leaps into the spotlight when the time is right. The stable bass of Matt Clohesy is convivial and Ferenc Nemeth’s drums tie things together well.

Irwin’s music flows through the veins of the listener, timed to a distant heartbeat. At times, the compositions take expected paths, granting comfort to the listener. But Irwin is intrepid and he doesn’t hold back from releasing melodies and moments infused with sonic power and dazzling force.

Take “The Wizard,” for instance. Here, Irwin has constructed a rather catlike track that moves in and out with jazzy meticulousness. It is sultry, mystifying, ardent. Yet there is something about the way the tide of opulence ebbs and flows that belies a certain core sense of alarm and trial. Irwin’s layering of the composition is never easy and can be rather troubling at times, even as the song veers off into a basic tango.

As unsettling as Irwin’s compositions can be, they are also always hospitable. As Blood and Thunder reveals, there is force within the vital signs.

“Sprung” tackles pleasure with taut exactitude. The light tapping of Nemeth’s drums guides the bouncy track but never ensnares it on its own elation. Indeed, Irwin’s musicians play havoc with one another here and seem to be having a whole lot of fun doing it. The track is engaging and convincing in its glee.

The album’s opening track, “Like the Sunshine,” matches its title faultlessly and greets the listener like the dawn. Supple percussion introduces the alto sax, giving the song progression with intelligibility.

Blood and Thunder is a courageous and crisp jazz record. It is appealing, absorbing, and affectionate. Irwin’s command over the music is immaculate, as he leads his group through his harmonious universe with the style and grace of a truly great musician. His original compositions are astonishing in their beauty and his work with a pair of classics is similarly stunning.

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