Vivid Hooks in Tricky Tempos from Jason Robinson
Too many albums sound like OK, We Have to Make a Record. You can hear the tension in the takes…or the musicians phoning it in because they haven’t had time to get the songs in their fingers, or develop a chemistry with the rest of the band. Then there are albums like tenor saxophonist Jason Robinson’s new Tyresian Symmetry – recently out from Cuneiform – that have the chemistry and repartee of a good live gig. If the idea of clever improvisation on catchy tunes in 7 meter appeals to you, this is your album.
The obvious inspiration for this band is Henry Threadgill’s Very Very Circus. Marcus Rojas and Bill Lowe (who also plays bass trombone) man the twin tubas, a mighty low end to bolster Drew Gress’ fat bass. The twin trap kits are handled by George Schuller and Ches Smith, a configuration that makes even more sense considering that Robinson is a longtime member of esteemed third-wave roots reggae band Groundation. Liberty Ellman plays guitar; JD Parran contributes his usual multi-reeds, along with Marty Ehrlich on saxes and clarinet.
A bubbling imtroductory tuba conversation, an artfully crescendoing Gress solo and exchanges between reeds and low brass light up the opening cut, Stratum 3. The eleven-minute title track has the catchiness of a straight-up funk song, albeit one in 7/2, individual territories marked by Ehrlich melismatics, Ellman austerity and alternately blippy and screaming Robinson solos. Likewise, Radiate starts out pretty straight-up with a wary Ehrlich melody over tuba harmonies and then sandwiches a long, chirping, squalling Parran bass clarinet solo in the middle of noir funk before Ellman pushes unexpectedly into bluesmetal terrain.
A showcase for memorable lows from Lowe and then Gress, Saros works a semi-circular Ethiopiques groove, Ehrlich playfully needling Robinson as the tenor pulls tensely against the center. A mini-suite, Elbow Grease builds from an expansively clustering solo Robinson intro, to tricky swing and then a densely intertwining yet surprisingly elegant thicket of reeds. Similarly, Corduroy packs a lot into less than seven minutes: low/high ensemble dichotomies, a richly developed Ellman solo that goes from twinkling to allusively lush, hints of apprehension as the low brass rises, and then Lowe flips the script and introduces some wry relief with muted bass trombone. The album ends with a rousing, soaring big band tune, Cosmolographie, with more pairing off between lows and highs, eventually leaving the high reeds to rustle amongst themselves before bringing it up and out in a flurry. The riffs are strong to the point of hummability, no small achievement in music this intricately orchestrated. Reggae may be Robinson’s money gig, but he’s obviously having every bit as much fun with this project. He and the band play the album release show for this one at Shapeshifter Lab in Gowanus on Dec 18. Robinson also plays with Groundation at Highline Ballroom on Nov 7 at around 9; tix are still available.
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