Release date: May 3, 2024



Arman Sangalang
Kirby Fellis
Austyn Menk
Morgan Turner
Paul Barrilles

The collective group IRIS fuses hard bop and post bop on their exciting self-titled debut, out May 3, 2024, providing a glimpse of Chicago’s next generation of jazz musicians.

IRIS was born out of the mutual desire of five young Chicago musicians to blend historic subgenres of jazz such as hard bop and post bop. Their self-titled debut comes out on Shifting Paradigm Records on May 3, 2024. Initially the brainchild of saxophonist Arman Sangalang, the band features trombonist Kirby Fellis, pianist Austyn Menk, bassist Morgan Turner and drummer Paul Barrilles.

The individuals in this ensemble are each garnering attention in their own right. Sangalang is the 2022 recipient of the Jazz Links Fellowship from the Jazz Institute of Chicago and has performed at the Hyde Park Jazz Festival, and Chicago Jazz Festival. He was named “Rookie of the Year” by RadioRadioX for his debut release Quartet. Fellis, a professor at Harper College, has worked with multi-grammy award winning vocalist Kurt Elling, drummer Nate Smith, and saxophonist James Carter and toured nationally with the Count Basie Orchestra. Turner leads her own quartet and was a part of the 2023 mentee class for the Women in Jazz Organization founded by saxophonist Roxy Coss. Menk, a committed music educator and administrator, has been forging his own path performing with the Blueshift Big Band and vocalists Mardra Thomas and Tatum Langley while serving on staff at the NIU School of Music. Barrilles is a sideman for many groups and his project Trio Profondo received international acclaim for their album Mosaics which was named Top 12 in France by Couleurs Jazz in 2023.

The music from IRIS is a product of their memorable experience from the highly esteemed Jazz Aspen Snowmass Academy in Colorado. As one of four groups from across the country selected to attend, the program allowed IRIS to immerse themselves in the teachings of renowned artists like Etienne Charles, Brian Lynch and Chuck Bergeron. Upon returning to Chicago, the group continued to develop their sound, touring across the Midwest to venues like Cliff Bell’s (MI), Jazz Central Studios (MN), Merriman’s Playhouse (IN), and Andy’s Jazz Club (IL). Fresh off their 2023 spring tour, the band headed into the studio and recorded at Kiwi Audio. The result is described as “a beautiful representation of jazz music in its current attire,” by guitar virtuoso Bobby Broom.

Primarily original music, the album introduces each member and lets them shine individually through carefully crafted compositions and solos, while still acting as a cohesive unit. “This group allows us to bring in compositions and they evolve into something completely different because of our diverse backgrounds” says Sangalang. Renowned saxophonist Greg Ward says, “IRIS has put together a beautiful debut recording that showcases a refined band sound while allowing room for each member’s unique voice to shine through! This is a killer band and a great recording!”

The album’s opener, “Easy Does It,” was composed by Sangalang and named after a new music venue in Chicago. The melody unfolds with Sangalangs’s dark tenor sound before being joined by Fellis’ warm tone to accent the spirited harmony. The tune leads into fiery solos by Menk and Sangalang that weave seamlessly back to the melody and crescendos to Barrilles’s drum solo.

“Cece & The Rabbit” was composed by Turner and inspired by a child and her favorite stuffed animal. The tune is a musical representation of what may go on in a child’s imagination when they disappear into their own world, filled with whimsy and adventure. Next is another composition by Sangalang, “Contemplation,” which starts with a melody using only simple harmony to convey a tranquil mood, but as the tune progresses, the harmony gets denser and darker while the melody stays the same before returning back to its tranquil theme. It’s a reflection on the imposter syndrome that many musicians tend to feel and learning to accept that they have put a great deal of work into their craft.

“Fragment/Fracture” was written by Turner and draws from several drafts of compositions that had not yet come to fruition. Through experimentation with time signatures, keys, and grooves, these broken pieces of tunes in the “work in progress” folder came together to create a mosaic-like composition. Penned by Fellis, “If Only For A Moment” is a piece about loss, and regret. Written as an ode to his deceased father, Fellis remarks “A man who left all too soon, posing the question ‘what would one do to have a loved one back, if only for a moment?’” Menk’s ballad “February 4th” is another elegy of sorts, recounting the day in 2021 when his grandmother passed away after contracting COVID-19. For different listeners, the atmosphere conveyed in this piece may fall anywhere on a spectrum from frustration to quietude.

After much introspection, IRIS closes the album by exploring the tunes that influenced their musical upbringing. “The Sunny Side Of The Street” starts with a buoyant statement of the beloved melody followed by simmering solos before returning to an easy groove with the final chorus accenting Fellis’ blues-infused tone as it crescendos into a vibrant shuffle. “The Challenge,” made famous by the late trumpeter Roy Hargrove, concludes the album with the band giving it their all on the fast-paced tune. A fitting way to close out the album by highlighting the intensity the band has to offer.

This music provides only a glimpse into the new generation of jazz musicians coming out of Chicago. IRIS’s debut release signals the bond of five peers joining together to create their own spot in the jazz scene. Guitarist Bobby Broom drives home this sentiment in the liner notes, “Like most lasting jazz music, IRIS’s sonic personality is achieved by the joined forces of its distinct and attractive, individual voices and is further clarified by the members’ songwriting.”