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Sylvain Rifflet and Jon Irbagon: Rebellion(s) – Album Review by Nicolette L.

Few commodities are as coveted in the modern imperialist west as the image of revolt. Its rancor, its passion, the conflict that is inherent within the concept itself, revolt serves as an excellent thematic starting point for the artist. However, as per the nature of commodification, “revolt” can be very easily stripped of its semantic, ideological weight in exchange for this abstracted emotional power. And in this manner one can aptly describe “Rebellion(s)” by dual saxophonists Sylvain Rifflet and Jon Irbagon, a middling record of post-bop bordering on free jazz, underpinned by politics that are both painfully milquetoast and shamelessly incomprehensible. 

The liner notes make repeated reference to Ornette Coleman as an inspiration for the music, and that does seem to be the most reasonable sonic comparison. Much of the music follows the recent trend of avant garde post-bop a la Nate Smith, with lots of percussive tones over non-standard time signatures and jagged lines, with a dose of free improvisation thrown in. It far too often feels tame and academic, with the highly technical elements neutering the nuance and care that those aforementioned artists are able to bring to the avant garde. This mediocrity is only exacerbated by the elephant in the room for four of the six tracks, which are of course the speech recordings. 

A good examination of the effect of virality on a piece of music, the speeches here are particularly famous, and a few are very recent. Greta Thunberg’s speech on climate change to the United Nations can be heard here, as well as one of the students from the Parkland shooting discussing gun control. “Rebellion(s)” lacks the pull of recency with these speeches, with their greatest cultural impact having passed years if not decades prior. They aren’t able to provide interesting commentary on the content of the speeches themselves, nor on the meta-concept of rebellion as presented through these recordings. Who’s ideology are they attempting to challenge with this record? Their brash, shallow impressionism over the speeches’ most emotionally intense moments seems to imply that they have no interest in this sort of engagement with their audience. This is not even mentioning the use of a Paul Robeson speech in the fifth track, amidst a series of neoliberals. And so we are left with a zombie of a record with nothing compelling to offer. Track 2 is both the least out there stylistically and the best track for its lack of any vocal samples! For once something is left to interpretation.

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