French-born, Brooklyn-based tenor and soprano saxophonist Jerome Sabbagh earned mainstream cred with his trio-standards album One Two Three. His solos on that album were compelling at every turn, enough to make you ask, “Who’s that?” But, for the most part, his other collaborations showed a more far-flung sense of adventure, as in his work with guitarist Ben Monder.
Plugged In takes Sabbagh in yet another direction. As the title indicates, it’s an electric album, featuring the Belgian keyboardist Jozef Dumoulin, electric bassist Patrice Blanchard and drummer Rudy Royston. Sabbagh is at his poised best, but the sound of the band as a whole — plus the mix of tunes by Sabbagh and Dumoulin — make this album stand out. The groove of the opening track, “Drive,” and its satisfying verse-chorus structure could lead listeners to expect hard, straightahead-organ-combo blowing. But then the clangor of Dumoulin’s keyboard solo kicks in, while Blanchard tugs and pushes the beat. The mix of such concise song forms and free blowing is a tonic throughout.
Sabbagh’s “Special K” suggests a folk-pop melody just beyond recall. And “Jeli” is an off-kilter Calypso in which Dumoulin conjures the outer reaches of the late Joe Zawinul’s world-music sound. But on Dumoulin’s “Aisha” — which looks toward Coltrane with both the title and the arpeggiated tenor lines if not the composition — listeners can hear a composed free-form interplay that suggests how far this band could go if they continue as a working entity.
— Jon Garelick