Jerome Sabbagh & Greg Tuohey’s new album, No Filter, possesses one heck of an audiophile pedigree. It was recorded live to 1/2″ two-track analog tape at 30 ips, it was mastered by Bernie Grundman at his Hollywood studio, and the “master lacquer was cut directly from the analog tape using an all-tube system.” If that’s not impressive enough, how about this: “There are no edits or overdubs on this recording.”
Tenor saxophone player Jerome Sabbagh emailed me a few weeks ago asking me if I wanted a copy of the LP for review. I get this type of request fairly often, and I usually say yes because, you know, free vinyl, but Jerome wasn’t just any jazz musician. First of all, he included a profile of him from Stereophile by Ken Micallef–it turns out that Sabbagh is a fellow audiophile. Before you know it, we were chatting back and forth about all kinds of gear, and I sent him a photo of the Dr. Feickert Analogue Firebird turntable, complete with 12″ Origin Live Illustrious arm/Koetsu Rosewood Signature Platinum AND 12″ Jelco arm and Miyajima Madake, that I’d be using to review his album. (Review of this rig will appear in the summer issue of The Occasional.) By this point I was just totally geeking out, of course, but I can’t think of the last time I discussed high-end audio with a musician.
Enough About Audiophiles, Already
This friendly back-and-forth exchange did not prepare me for Jerome Sabbagh and Greg Tuohey’s album, No Filter. First of all, the title is totally apt–as you may have already guessed. In the world of jazz, however, “live” doesn’t usually mean “rough around the edges” or having the overall quality of an album of outtakes and rarities. In jazz, live is everything. It’s the energy that’s created while completely in the moment, of taking everything you’ve learned so far in life and stepping off into the abyss and landing on your feet at the bottom. Sabbagh and guitarist Tuohey, along with bassist Joe Martin and drummer Kush Abadey, approach these original compositions with an uncommon clarity and economy, something that usually comes from familiarity. In this case, however, that familiarity doesn’t seem to originate from the songs themselves but with the bond between these four.
These seven songs travel along an emotional arc, one that touches several different jazz styles while maintaining an identity. Sabbagh and Tuohey, who have split the composing and arranging almost equally, are strong on melody, on maintaining themes during improvisation, of keeping everything tight and meaningful. Occasionally they do venture into the world of free jazz, but those outbursts often act as punctuation, or at least a minor catharsis so the next idea can emerge. This is important, since it lets each song develop its own unique identity, its own reason for being.
The sound quality, as you might imagine, is stunningly real. Abadey’s crash cymbal is full of raw, confrontational beauty–you can see it clearly in space and you feel as if you might reach out and touch it if you stretch far enough. Jerome Sabbagh and Greg Tuohey alternate as leads and you can immediately sense the visceral difference in each approach, the contrast of brass and strings. Everything about No Filter is as honest and direct as it gets. This is about getting as close as you can to the performers, leaning in closely, and almost hearing their thoughts and intuitions a millisecond before the note is played.