Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

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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November 3, 2012 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Conference Call Doesn’t Phone This One In

You have to give these guys credit, they fly without a net every time. By the time reed player/composer Gebhard Ullmann’s quartet Conference Call played their concert on April 22, 2007 in Krakow, they were a well-oiled machine. As far outside as some of their improvisations go, the chemistry in the band is visceral: at this point, they could just press “record” and go for it, knowing they’d get something worthwhile out of it. And as reliably adventurous as these players are – Ullmann on saxes and bass clarinet, Michael Jefry Stevens on piano, Joe Fonda on bass and George Schuller on drums – there’s far more structure and melody in the performances on this album, What About…? than might seem evident at first listen. It’s a long album, two cds and almost an hour and a quarter’s worth of music, but virtually all of it will hold your attention if you listen closely. Jazz doesn’t get any more psychedelic than this.

A cynic would say that the Europeans always go for the weirdest stuff, and these guys start out weird – a flutter of the sax, a wrinkle of the piano, and eventually they work in tandem, fluttering as the bass and drums do recon. But ultimately Ullmann is the scout here, as he will be for the rest of the night, searching overhead as the piano pounds gently – the two converse briefly and then bass and drums join the agitation. They segue into the next two tracks – a tastily chromatic, minimalist piano rumble with variations and then a slowly pulsing nocturne, overtone-laden bowed bass and sax whistling and weaving out of focus, adding a vertiginous, off-center unease. As with many of the tracks here, they fade out gracefully when everyone’s said all they have to say.

Ullmann frequently goes completely against the central key here, with bracingly effective results, particularly on the fourth track – the first of a loosely connected three-part suite – that blends both classical and funk piano tinges while the sax flies overhead. And the device adds considerable humor on the practically seventeen-minute second part, Ullmann swinging obliviously as the rest of the band prowl around, tentative and ominous until they finally coalesce and take it up to a clever false ending.

The second cd opens with Fonda taking over the obliviously swinging role after a long, tersely played yet expansive intro. Stevens’ sardonically titled Could This Be a Polka is actually one of the most memorably warped tangos ever written, Ullmann’s bass clarinet indignant, insistent and eventually even belligerent as the piano brings it back out of the chaos when least expected. Litmus, by Schuller builds from conspiratorial call-and-response to a long machine-gun vamp; Ullmann’s Translucent Tones is an impressionistic exercise in shadowplay, glimmer versus low thoughtful washes of sound as the piano slowly establishes a camouflaged lento groove. The jauntily amusing title track is basically a swing tune with the rhythm stripped away (a paradox, but that’s what makes it so much fun), piano, bass and drums hinting at it but never quiet going there as Ullmann blithely sways along, completely on his own for almost the entire eight minutes. As intriguingly and surprisingly melodic as this album is, it has legs well beyond the free jazz/outsider jazz crowd who are its primary audience.

August 18, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment