You can’t pigeonhole saxophonist Jérôme Sabbagh. One night you might find him playing standards with a hard swinging trio. On another, he’ll be playing with a very different trio, playing music both gorgeous and abstract. But on Saturday, Sabbagh is coming to The Jazz Gallery with his home base quartet, a group that is celebrating their 10th anniversary together.
The group, which features Sabbagh along with guitarist Ben Monder, bassist Joe Martin, and drummer Ted Poor (Jochen Rueckert will be filling in on drums for this show), has released two albums together and is coming out with a third this fall entitled The Turn (Sunnyside Records). We caught up with Jérôme by phone this week to talk about what makes his quartet tick and what his new album has in store.
The Jazz Gallery: You’re celebrating the 10th anniversary of your quartet at this show. Can you tell us how everyone met and why the group has stayed together for this long?
Jérôme Sabbagh: I met all these guys 10-15 years ago. I really looked up to Ben as a guitar player and wanted to play with him, and then we experimented with different rhythm sections on several gigs. Kind of by accident, we ended up doing a gig with Joe and Ted and I just felt everything clicking.
After that we did our first record, which was in 2004, called North on Fresh Sound, and then we kept playing together. When you play on stage with a group over a period of time, I feel the music evolves and gets better, so this group feels like home base for me. I feel like I can write music that these guys can play really well. I write music with these guys in mind, and I feel that they can be themselves when they play with me as well as connect with the tunes.
TJG: Why do you think you all clicked when you played together 10 years ago? What about everyone’s playing makes the group so cohesive?
JS: First, Ben is a great comper. In general, I really like the sound of saxophone and guitar. But specifically, Ben uses a lot of different sounds: his knowledge of harmony is really thorough; he has all these colors that he can pick from. Ben knows when to leave space and knows when to support and knows when to egg you on and perhaps help you reach some stuff that you might not have thought of. He’s just a great comper and I feel really at ease playing with him.
Everyone in the group can really shape the music. At the same time, we can all be in the moment, but also step away and look at the big picture, and I feel they know how to shape music in terms of what this tune needs now and where we are going. Ben, Joe, and Ted do that naturally, in a way that’s not contrived or preconceived.