Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

A Historic Meeting of Some of the World’s Greatest Improvisational Minds

The new release Flow States, a highly entertaining, frequently thrilling improvisatory session recorded in 2015, speaks to the imperiled state of music in 2020. After the lockdowners banned musicians from playing onstage and earning what had essentially become their sole source of income, artists around the world have been flooding the web with all kinds of incredible archival recordings. Desperate times, desperate measures – and the quality of this material reminds us of what we stand to lose if we continue to allow ourselves to be locked down.

This session has special historical value for being the very first time that saxophonist Roscoe Mitchell had played with either the Sun Ra Arkestra‘s iconic Marshall Allen, or with Milford Graves, the polymath drummer, cardiac medicine specialist, sound healing pioneer and musicologist. Multi-reedman Scott Robinson pulled the session together. While the session was in an open studio with no separation, the individual voices of this hall of fame lineup are distinct and everybody gets plenty of chances to give the listener goosebumps.

Allen is in the left channel, mainly on alto sax. Mitchell is in the center, beginning on soprano, sometimes shifting in one piece from sopranino to bass or alto. Robinson is on the right, moving from tenor to bass to contrabass and then alto, mixing it up as usual. And you should see Graves’ kit, with all those toms, delivering a majestically boomy, mysterious groove. Who needs a bass when you have that guy in the band?

Mitchell’s rapidfire melismas are so otherworldly and bagpipe-like throughout the first number, Vortex State, that it’s almost as if he’s playing the EWI that Allen has used for so long in the Sun Ra band. Meanwhile, Graves goes to his mallets for a deep, spacious river as Allen and Robinson carry on a lively, sharp conversation from the edges.

Track two, the aptly titled Dream State, floats over Graves’ magically shamanic, muted, steady pulse, sprites slowly popping up amidst the mist. Allen first goes to the EWI in the trio piece Transition State for a woozily amusing contrast with the droll strutting and foghorn sonics from Robinson’s bass sax as Graves builds a hypnotic sway with his cymbals.

Steady State, a duo piece for Graves and Mitchell’s Balkan-tinged sopranino, is arguably the album’s most relentlessly adrenalizing interlude. Allen picks up the EWI again for the wryly spacy warpscape Plasma State, another duo with Graves. Altered State also has ridiculously funny moments, whether it’s Robinson’s heavy-lidded lows on contrabass sax, or Graves sounding the alarm.

Variable State, a conversation between Mitchell and Allen (back on alto), has plenty of jokes too good to give away, but just as much daunting extended technique. The full quartet close with the title track, which with its relentless traffic jam ambience could be called Garden State, where the album was recorded. More auspiciously, a vinyl release is planned, including extra material that wouldn’t fit on this one.

November 27, 2020 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Most Shattering Piece of Music Released This Year

The most riveting and relevant piece of music released so far this year is basically a single note.

Scott Robinson plays 8 min. 46 sec. solo on bass saxophone, sustaining that note for the almost nine minutes that George Floyd managed to survive until Derek Chauvin finally succeeded in asphyxiating him. It will rip your face off. Robinson uses circular breathing to maintain the pitch, and as the piece goes on, even a veteran multi-reed player has to hold on for dear life.

That’s the point here: as quietly tortuous as Robinson’s own performance becomes, imagine what Floyd went through. As Robinson reminds in his notes on the youtube clip, he was shaking by the time he’d finished: Floyd didn’t get to make it that far.

June 16, 2020 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Low-Register Reed Maven Scott Robinson Hits a High Note or Two

Scott Robinson is one of this era’s great masters of the low reeds – specifically, the low, low reeds, the contrabass clarinet and such. But he’s even more than that: it wouldn’t be extreme to call him a master of wind instruments in general. For example, he’s also a competent trumpeter. With that in mind, it’s less of a surrprise that his favorite horn is a vintage 1924 tenor sax he rescued from a Maryland junk shop more than forty years ago. He’s playing that horn at a two-night birthday celebration at Birdland this June 21 and 22 at 7 PM. You can get in for $30; if that seems steep, consider that this is a pretty rare opportunity to get to see him play a whole set (one presumes – you never know) on tenor..

He’s also got a new album out, Tenormore – streaming at youtube – celebrating the sound of that instrument. For a guy whose own compositions are so often imbued with a quirky sense of humor, and are sometimes way out there, this is a very straight-ahead record, in an early 60s Prestige (or late tteens Posi-Tone) vein.

He opens it solo with a wry ascent to the very top of his register, in a spaciously exuberant take of the Beatles’ And I Love Her. Likewise, Tenor Eleven is a sprightly swing shuffle, Robinson’s carefree clusters over the spring-loaded pulse of pianist Helen Sung, bassist Martin Wind and drummer Dennis Mackrel. Fans of Robinson’s irrepressibly weird sci-fi themes may hear this and ask themselves, is it really him?

The group’s slow, expansive remake of Put on a Happy Face is a platform for Robinson’s balmy side, along with some very subtle extended technique and a wee-hours solo from Sung. The band pick up the pace with the briskly strolling Morning Star, Sung engaging in some glittering, emphatic, stride-inflected work, Wind bubbling and Robinson closing with striking, modal bittersweetness.

The tasty, lush noir atmospherics the band use to open The Good Life hardly offer a hint of the genial sway the tune will eventually take on, They return to steady postbop swing with Tenor Twelve, punctuated by Robinson’s punchy riffage, then the sumnery, jubilant, gospel-infused Rainy River with Sung switching to organ. They revisit that mood a little later with their chugging version of The Nearness of You.

Robinson’s wife Sharon guests on flute on The Weaver, a tasty, edgy clave tune  and a launching pad for the bandleader’s canny explorations throughout the entire register of his horn. They close the album with the title track, its coy, clever rhythmic and thematic shifts more reminiscent of Robinson’s further outside work than any of the album’s other cuts.

June 13, 2019 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment