The simple act of “plugging in” is easy to take for granted, but it provides power, illumination, charge; the same could be said for connecting a power cord or for the meeting of creative minds. On Plugged In (Bee Jazz), his fifth album as a leader, French-born, Brooklyn-based saxophonist Jerome Sabbagh discovers the spark of inspiration provided by both, assembling an exhilarating electric quartet and collaborating with the jaw-dropping Belgian keyboardist Jozef Dumoulin.
The result is an album that is all about electrifying connections – that between Sabbagh and Dumoulin, the intense grooves forged by Martinique-born bassist Patrice Blanchard and American drummer Rudy Royston, the conjunction of the electric and the lyrical, the raw edge of rock girding the sophisticated communication of jazz.
Sabbagh first encountered the keyboardist on record, knowing as soon as he heard Dumoulin’s unique approach that he wanted to work with him. “I heard something really pure in Jozef’s playing that I connected with,” Sabbagh recalls. “He was using a lot of effects, but at the same time he had a really distinct, original voice, and a degree of lyricism that is quite rare in an electric context.”
Dumoulin’s solo on the album’s perpetual-motion opener, “Drive,” highlights exactly why Sabbagh became so enamored of the Paris-based keyboardist. His ferocious howl approaches the overdriven force of an electric guitar, a sound that has inspired the saxophonist in the past: a member of the saxophonist’s long-running quartet, along with bassist Joe Martin and drummer Ted Poor, is the never-predictable guitarist Ben Monder, whose ability to coax a surprising array of colors from his chosen instrument is echoed by Dumoulin’s similarly virtuosic skillset.
“Ben and Jozef both have a very strong voice, harmonically as well as sonically,” Sabbagh says. “They sound like somebody singing, and that’s something I’m attracted to on any instrument. It’s something that I seek in my own playing.”
As a composer, Sabbagh achieves that singing quality via a propensity for rock-tinged pieces that embrace the accessibility of pop music without eschewing intellectual rigor. The anthemic “Special K”, with its infectious, memorable melody is a prime example, the type of tune that will send listeners scrambling into the recesses of their memory for a forgotten scrap of lyric. “I like writing quasi-pop tunes,”
Sabbagh says. “The human voice is an inspiration to me.”
The two came together via a grant from the French-American Jazz Exchange program administered jointly by Chamber Music Americaand the French American Cultural Exchange, bringing Dumoulin to New York for an intensive ten days of rehearsal, gigging and recording. Sabbagh and Dumoulin each composed half of the repertoire, agreeing not to check in on one another during the writing process. “I had no idea what he was writing and he had no idea what I was writing until he flew to New York,” Sabbagh says. “We trusted that we would make it work once we actually got together.”
Not only did they make it work, but Plugged In is a powerfully cohesive album comprising fourteen diverse pieces. “One emphasis of this project was showcasing Jozef’s writing and my writing and the similarities and differences between them,” Sabbagh explains, “so I wanted to have a variety of material.” The pieces they chose reconcile Sabbagh’s pop-centric, song-like approach with Dumoulin’s headier, more conceptual style without the record ever feeling schizophrenic. The keyboardist’s ethereal “Ronny” seems to flow naturally from the saxophonist’s African-influenced “Jeli,” Sabbagh’s languorous “Minor” from Dumoulin’s simmering “UR”, which takes a free hand with the chords of “All the Things You Are,” leaving little trace ofthe well-worn standard.
Both composers get their fair share of the spotlight due over the course of the album’s fourteen concise tracks. Rather than indulging in lengthy, rambling improvisations, Sabbagh and company focused on playing brief, taut, impactful statements. “I like the idea of trying to get to the essence of the songs, saying what you have to say and then moving on,” Sabbagh says. “I think having one song that’s really different from the one before and the one after, like rock albums often do, keeps you alert and listening. And I like making albums as opposed to a random collection of songs.”
The session is possessed of the excitement its creators were feeling during its recordings. The date marked Dumoulin’s first visit not only to New York but to the States; Sabbagh was fresh off playing a week at the Village Vanguard in Paul Motian’s New Trio, alongside frequent collaborator Ben Monder (the legendary drummer, sadly, passed away two months later). That experience stood out, even among the other greats with whom Sabbagh has performed or recorded, including Victor Lewis, Bill Stewart, Billy Drummond, Andrew Cyrille, Daniel Humair, Guillermo Klein, Ben Street and many others.
1. Drive (Jerome Sabbagh) - 5:20
2. Special K (Jerome Sabbagh) - 3:55
3. Aisha (Jozef Dumoulin) - 7:08
4. Jeli (Jerome Sabbagh) - 5:17
5. Ronny (Jozef Dumoulin) - 2:14
6. Walk 6 (Jozef Dumoulin) – 3:02
7. Ur (Jozef Dumoulin) - 5:43
8. Minor (Jerome Sabbagh) - 5:27
9. Rider (Jerome Sabbagh) - 4:48
10. Boulevard Carnot (Jozef Dumoulin) - 2:14
11. City Dawn (Jerome Sabbagh) - 5:34
12. Walk 3 Bis (Jozef Dumoulin) - 4:56
13. Kasbah (Jerome Sabbagh) - 3:44
14. Slow rock ballad (Jozef Dumoulin) - 5:18
TOTAL TIME 65:14