Friday, December 24, 2010

The Ones That (Nearly) Got Away (Saxophone edition)

Cerulean Landscape - Jason Robinson & Anthony Davis (Clean Feed) - Saxophonist, composer and educator Robinson has issued 3 CDs at the same time; this duo, the larger ensemble below and a solo recording that I'll review at another time. Here, he is paired with pianist Davis with whom he studied in California.  There is much to like in their program. Both men play with fire and plenty of ideas yet never lose their way in the different challenges they create for each other.  The program from Davis's handsome ballad "Shimmer" that opens the CD to the harder-edged "Vicissitudes" from the pen of Robinson (whose soprano work brings Roscoe Mitchell to mind.) They explore the pianist's "Of Blues and Dreams" which Davis has recorded on a number of occasions. Here, it is slow, ruminative, melodic, with sections that recall blues ballads.  Robinson's tenor displays a rich tone while Davis rumbles, rambles, and moves gracefully in and around the reed playing.  The title track closes the disk, opening with a solo saxophone exploration that is far-ranging in its scope. Once the piano enters, the piece becomes a ballad that moves slowly yet steadily forward.  Davis's solo is a highlight, filled with powerful chords and majestic melodic runs.
This is not background music.  Robinson and Davis listen and react, step out when called for, and always serve the music.  One can tell when musicians are not just showing off, when the music prepared for the session is substantive and the interactions intuitive not forced.  For more information, go to

 The Two Faces of Janus - Jason Robinson (Cuneiform) -Here, Robinson records (mostly) with the quartet of Liberty Ellman (guitar), Drew Gress (bass) and George Schuller (drums.)  Marty Ehrlich (alto saxophone, bass clarinet) appears on 5 of the 9 tracks (including 2 duets) and Rudresh Mahanthappa adds his alto sax to the front line for 3 of the songs. There is plenty of energy on the opening "Return to Pacasmayo" with Robinson's tenor and Ehrlich's alto sparring, Ellman's guitar lines rippling over Schuller's high-energy drumming and Gress's booming bottom lines. Ehrlich's squalling and soaring lines match well with the leader's harder, percussive, riffs.  Mahanthappa joins the other saxophonists on the title track, pushing the already high-energy up several more notches.  Pay close attention and enjoy how Ellman plays counterpoint at different times. The three reeds also perform on the slower yet equally engaging "Tides of Consciousness Fading", Ehrlich moving to bass clarinet where he creates a blues-drenched solo over Ellman's Monk-like chords. 
At under 4:02, the duets are among the shorter tracks on the 76-minute disk.  "Huaca de la Luna" (named for "The Temple of the Moon" in Northern Peru) is a fascinating conservation for alto and tenor, with some call-and-response, independent lines and a constant movement forward.  "Huaca del Sol" (the "Temple of the Sun" in the same area) is in a similar vein, opening with the two reeds buzzing around each other, then moving through sections where each plays a lead while the other flutters below then closing on a long fade.
"Paper Tiger" is the only Trio track (sax, bass and drums), a piece that is reminiscent of a Mario Pavone composition, especially in the way Gress pushes the piece forward while, occasionally, shadowing the tenor lines.
Ellman's guitar softens the proceedings on "The Twelfth Labor" - whereas a piano might have "harder" chords, here he allows Robinson's tenor lines to stand out. With numerous tempo changes, the track keeps one's attention with its sharp interplay (great rhythm section work) and the fine solos. The piece feels like a Coltrane Quartet song with a "hard bop" edge.
Jason Robinson has much to offer and this CD has plenty of variety in the strong voices he surrounds himself, the fine compositions and his own tonal attack.  Modern music that invites and excites the senses - for more information, go to or go to Robinson's site listed above.

Hear You Say: Live in Willisau - The Ray Anderson/Marty Ehrlich Quartet (Intuition) - Trombonist Anderson and Ehrlich are no strangers to each other or to adventurous music.  Their paths first crossed in the late 1970s when they appeared on an Anthony Braxton recording and they have worked together numerous times since.  This live date, from August 2009, features the blessedly intuitive and inventive rhythm section of Brad Jones (bass) and Matt Wilson (drums.)  Opening with the multi-sectioned "Portrait of Leroy Jenkins", this music dances, wails, flutters, swings and rocks (yes, as in heavy backbeat and all the trappings.) There is something about Anderson's playing that continually brings a smile to my face.  He's always been facile yet there's an edge of joy to everything he plays. Even on the ballad "My Wish", his lines are swooping and soaring, getting "lowdown" and "testifying".  When the 4 musicians stir the "Hot Crab Pot", the music feels like Charlie Parker on the Bayou Teche.With Anderson roaring atop Wilson's dancing drums and Jones' buoyant bass lines, this is music that just feels so good.  Ehrlich's solo, on alto saxophone, is a swirling journey with dancing bass work and propulsive drums. Wilson seems to be channeling Ed Blackwell on the trombonist's "Alligatory Rhumba", his drums creating a dance beat that is highly infectious. The title track closes the program with bluesy interplay, exclamatory trombone, a very melodic yet rhythmic bass solo and hip-shaking alto sax lines, all propelled by Wilson's "fatback" drums. 
Each track is praise-worthy, the interplay delightful, Ehrlich shines on his various reeds (clarinet, alto and soprano saxophones), and Anderson is...vintage Anderson.  Jones and Wilson are the perfect rhythm section.  Judging by the final ovation, the crowd is thrilled - you will be too.  If this music doesn't make you feel good to be alive, best check your pulse. For more information, go to

Fierce - Patrick Cornelius (Whirlwind Records) - Don't let the title put you off.  This is not music that claws at your ears; instead, alto saxophonist Cornelius has crafted 9 tracks on his second release as a leader that draw from the history of jazz, complete with flourishes of the blues.With a complimentary rhythm section of Michael Janisch (bass) and Johnathan Blake (drums), this is music that may remind some of the classic Sonny Rollins Trio and others of Henry Threadgill's work with Air.  You can hear hints of both on "Hopscotch" in both Cornelius's tart yet bluesy alto and Janisch's active and melodic bass lines. Blake works with both, giving them room and also pushing the piece forward.  "Two Seventy-Eight" has an intensity created by the active rhythm section and reinforced by the addition of valve trombonist Nick Vayenas - Cornelius carves a solo out of rapid-fire notes and long tones while Vayenas starts his section with fire then unwinds slowly. The trombonist flies over the bass and drums on "New Blues", sputtering and spraying notes like a gunner. Cornelius comes in next, building his solo from short phrases, stretching more and more as he races forward.  It's both breathtaking and musical at the same time.  Tenor saxophonist Mark Small adds his voice to the front line on "First Dance." His style is somewhat more laconic than Cornelius, making for an interesting contrast.  
While it is pleasing to have the other voices, the trio tracks remain my favorite.  The interplay of the rhythm section with the leader is impressive and Cornelius responds with solos that range far afield but never lose focus.   He's got fire and grace, showing no need to compromise on his vision.  For more information, go to

1 comment:

  1. Happy Holidays, Richard, and thanks for all the insightful commentary on this great music!

    For Richard's readers, Jason Robinson and Patrick Cornelius were on The Jazz Session recently talking about these albums. Here are the links:



    All the best,