Artist: Jerome Sabbagh & Greg Tuohey
Album: No Filter
Label: Sunnyside Records
Year Of Release: 2019
Quality: FLAC (tracks)
3. No Road
4. Chaos Reigns
7. You Are On My Mind
Jerome Sabbagh – tenor saxophone
Greg Tuohey – guitar
Joe Martin – bass
Kush Abadey – drums
There are special bonds that can withstand distance and time. Saxophonist Jerome Sabbagh and guitarist Greg Tuohey’s partnership has lasted from their days in college at the beginning of the 1990s, through moves and interruption, only to be reinvigorated with the creation of a new ensemble and recording. The resultant No Filter eschews pretension in an effort to provide music that cuts straight to the heart.
Sabbagh and Tuohey met at Berklee College of Music in Boston. Coming from opposite sides of the world (Sabbagh from France and Tuohey from New Zealand), they stared playing together, and quickly became friends and roommates. The two moved to New York around the same time and created the band Flipside, which included bassist Matt Penman and drummer Darren Beckett. Flipside recorded an eponymous album for Naxos Jazz in 1997 and toured for a number of years.
In the early 2000s, Tuohey took a ten-year leave from the jazz scene but remained active in rock bands, touring and recording, most notably with singer/songwriter Joe Pug. Upon moving to Illinois, where he lived for three years, Tuohey began to play jazz again around Chicago and recorded an album, First, before eventually moving back to New York. There he reconnected with, among others, pianist Aaron Parks, who hired him for his band Little Big.
Sabbagh remained involved in jazz, playing in a trio with Paul Motian in one of the legendary drummer’s last appearances at the Village Vanguard and releasing a string of well-received albums, including The Turn (Sunnyside, 2014) with his quartet, featuring guitarist Ben Monder.
In New York, Sabbagh and Tuohey put a band together. Joe Martin, one of today’s great bassists and an alumnus of Sabbagh’s quartet, was an obvious choice. Drummer Kush Abadey impressed when he came to a session at Sabbagh’s house; his commitment, versatility and musicianship cemented his position in the quartet.
The two leaders knew they wanted to record an album of original pieces. Following the success of The Turn in the audiophile community, they also aimed to release the best sounding record possible (No Filter will be available in audiophile vinyl, cut all analog by Bernie Grundman, as well as high resolution download). Sabbagh and Tuohey both wrote a number of tunes, fourteen of which were recorded live to two-track tape by James Farber at Sear Sound in New York City.
Recording direct to analog tape, all in the same room, without edits or overdubs, required some preparedness. Following a tour last fall, the band knew the material and veteran engineer Farber mixed on the fly. This urgency and directness are very much representative of the band’s esthetics. The goal was to capture the moment and produce an album in which there is as little barrier as possible between the artists and listeners.
The seven pieces eventually chosen for the album are short and punchy, melodic and lyrical. They keep the listener engaged and provide the four musicians a canvas for improvising, interplay and exploration. Though Sabbagh and Tuohey have different compositional identities, their contributions work well together and the history and deep trust between the two leaders is evident in the way they phrase melodies together and play off each other throughout the album.
The recording begins with Sabbagh’s exploratory “Vicious,” an extended minor blues on which the band really lets loose. Tuohey’s “Lurker” is meant to have a slightly sinister vibe, though it remains engaging and grooving. On the beautiful ballad “No Road,” Tuohey expresses the emotion of coming to the end of the road, in this case a marriage, while his “Chaos Reigns” holds together by the faintest of structures even as it lets the solos fly off with abandon.
Tuohey’s “Ghostly” has an Elvin Jones inspired groove and the lyricism of the solos belies the song’s intricate harmonic structure. Sabbagh’s “Cotton” is a through-composed melody on which the saxophonist sought to emulate the vulnerability of the human voice, singing over dissonant chords. The recording concludes with Sabbagh’a “You Are On My Mind,” a catchy melody, which shows the band’s deep connection to swing and the jazz tradition.
With this new record, Jerome Sabbagh and Greg Tuohey have sought to bring listeners a performance of emotion, depth and resonance. After ten years apart, they have reunited to take their longtime musical partnership to new height with No Filter.