Tag Archives: Jason Robinson

Gapplegate Music review by Grego Edwards

Jason Robinson and Anthony Davis Make Beautiful Music on “Cerulean Landscape”

Jason Robinson / Anthony Davis – Cerulean Landscape (CF 198)
Cerulian Landscape (Clean Feed 198) is one beautiful recording. Lyricism is not a common thing in jazz-improv these days. Lyricism is bursting at the seams on this Jason Robinson and Anthony Davis release. It serves notice in several ways. One, Anthony Davis is a jazz composer and pianist of the highest stature. I won’t say he’s back, because I don’t believe he’s ever left the scene. But this CD should wake people up to his artistry if they have not paid enough attention to him. Secondly, it highlights the formidable compositional skills of Jason Robinson, and also puts the lyrical side of his work on tenor, soprano, alto and alto flute in bold relief. Now he also happens to have two other new releases we’ll be covering on this blog in the near future. All three together show a remarkably versatile musician. But that will become more clear in the coming weeks.

So of the seven songs on this disk, three are by Davis, three are by Robinson (there is also one by Jason Sherbundy). There are moments of free-fire but they have such strong melodic projection in them that I would have to say that there’s a kind of lyricism going there too. Two very strong players in full flight; some very beautiful pieces….what more could you want? Ravishing! Really ravishing music.

Village Voice 25th Jazz Consumers Guide by Tom Hull

Jazz Consumer Guide: Low-End Theories
Bassists shine, even amid the dark age of conservatism

Lane’s Full Throttle Orchestra – Ashcan Rantings | Clean Feed
Like Mingus, Lane plays a mean bass, composes pieces that encapsulate the entire jazz tradition and then some, and runs a band that sounds even bigger than it is. His new group dispenses with guitar to deploy seven horns, doubling up on trumpet and trombone for cozy warmth as well as freewheeling action. Yet below all that brass, the bass dominates the tone and pulse, holding the power back so it’s more implied than felt, except when the throttle opens. A

William Parker – I Plan to Stay a Believer | AUM Fidelity
Long awaited. Parker unveiled his inside take on Curtis Mayfield’s political thoughts in 2001 and has shopped it around ever since, finally collecting slices from six concerts up through 2008 onto two discs. Leena Conquest sings, Amiri Baraka waxes eloquent, ad hoc choirs come and go, and the groove picks up some swing and a bunch of horns. “This Is My Country” could shut down a tea party, or launch another. A

Angles – Epileptical West | Clean Feed Leader/alto-saxophonist Martin Küchen’s other group is Exploding Customer. Trumpeter Magnus Broo’s main group is Atomic. There seem to be scads of young Scandinavians who cut their teeth in rock bands, then switched to jazz when they found they could play wilder, and maybe even louder. A sextet, with trombone for extra dirt and vibes for extra sparkle, live and loose in Coimbra. A

Tommy Babin’s Benzene – Your Body Is Your Prison | Drip Audio Although the hype sheet suggests “improv/space rock,” this is more dense than spacey, and doesn’t rock so much as bring the noize. The bassist-leader introduces two Chads, his star MacQuarrie on guitar, and Makela beefing up the bottom on bari sax. The group name and title suggest art/music that’s toxic and inflammable, and maybe we’re too far gone not to indulge it. A MINUS

The Nels Cline Singers – Initiate | Cryptogramophone
No vocals, just a guitar trio that’s been around a while, took a backseat while Cline pursued other projects (including a day job with Wilco), then decided they had something to prove. Two discs, a brainy one cut in the studio with lots of ideas and a few guests, and a brawny one recorded live that sounds like Cline learned something playing arenas, and that he’s delighted not to be backing a vocalist. A MINUS

Anat Cohen Clarinetwork: Live at the Village Vanguard | Anzic
A couple of songs beg comparison to Barney Bigard and don’t flinch, and her “Body and Soul” is worthy of Gary Giddins’s mixtape. It helps that the Peter Washington–Lewis Nash rhythm section is the best that mainstream has to offer, and that pianist Benny Green keeps pace. Helps even more that she answers any reservations I had about her poll-winning clarinet work. A MINUS

Freddy Cole – Freddy Cole Sings Mr. B | HighNote
Mr. B is ’40s crooner Billy Eckstine, whose rich baritone and studly swagger have left him irretrievably passé. No such problem for Cole, whose soft touch pries these gems loose as surely as Houston Person’s tenor sax shines them up. A MINUS

Bill Frisell – Beautiful Dreamers | Savoy Jazz 
The Norman Rockwell of jazz guitarists, growing ever more comfortable framing his string-toned Americana, with Eyvind Kang’s viola for flair and Rudy Royston’s drums for emphasis. The signposts are as familiar as “Beautiful Dreamer” and “Goin’ Out of My Head.” The originals cast unexpected highlights. A MINUS

Fred Hersch Trio – Whirl | Palmetto
Returning from a two-month coma: They say near-death focuses the mind, but so does working with a superior bass-drums combo—John Hébert and Eric McPherson—and focusing on your own legacy instead of cranking out another songbook tribute. If he sounds like his idol, Bill Evans, he isn’t bouncing back. He’s just being true. A MINUS

Oleg Kireyev/Keith Javors – Rhyme & Reason | Inarhyme
A Russian saxophonist from deep in the Urals, Kireyev worked his way through Poland to the U.S., where he studied under Bud Shank. His recent Mandala tapped into diverse streams of world fusion, but here he teams up with pianist Javors for an album of insouciant mainstream, fresh enough to do his late mentor proud. A MINUS

Myra Melford’s Be Bread – The Whole Tree Gone | Firehouse 12
She’s a dazzling piano player when she takes charge, but mostly she holds back, letting Brandon Ross’s guitar, Ben Goldberg’s clarinet, and Cuong Vu’s trumpet shape and color her seductive compositions. When she does cut loose, the whole band lifts up. A MINUS

Sounds of Liberation – Sounds of Liberation [1972] | Porter
Before the dark age of conservatism descended upon us, before Reagan, just before Watergate, this is what the future that might have been sounded like: funky conga rhythms sprinkled with sparkling Khan Jamal vibes, topped with Byard Lancaster’s avant-sax all but screaming freedom, justice, good times. A MINUS

The Stryker/Slagle Band – Keeper | Panorama
Dave Stryker’s fleet guitar changes, warmed up with Steve Slagle’s blues-inflected alto sax, with dependable bassist Jay Anderson and redoubtable drummer Victor Lewis keeping time: Postbop journeymen pull a minor masterpiece out of decades of earnest toil. A MINUS 

Henry Threadgill Zooid – This Brings Us To: Volume II | Pi
More of last year’s hit, and better, I’d say: The flute never flails against the tense, jagged rhythms, and contrasts neatly with tuba or trombone, while guitarist Liberty Ellman spins ever more elaborate lines. A MINUS

Vandermark 5 – Annular Gift | Not Two
With Fred Lonberg-Holm’s cello and electronics broadening the palette—including what sounds like a more refined return to Jeb Bishop’s guitar—the band returns to Alchemia in Krakow, and whips out a furious set that stands proudly alongside the Alchemia box. A MINUS

Honorable Mentions

Paal Nilssen-Love/Ken Vandermark – Milwaukee Volume/Chicago Volume | Smalltown Superjazz Two nights of smoldering sax and lascivious clarinet knocked about by a drummer who rocks in no known time.

3ology With Ron Miles | Tapestry This Colorado sax trio remains intimate enough to merit the introspective moniker, as Miles’s cornet fits in and draws them out.

Allison Miller – Boom Tic Boom | Foxhaven Drummer-led trio, an even better showcase for Myra Melford’s piano than her own album.

James Blood Ulmer – In and Out | In+Out As his grizzled vocals sink deeper into the blues, his harmolodic guitar skitters beyond.

Vijay Iyer – Solo | ACT Can the best jazz pianist of the last decade do a solo album? Sure, easy.

Bryan and the Haggards Pretend It’s the End of the World – Merle’s melodies run through the mill, from Bird to Ornette to Ayler.

Nik Bärtsch’s Ronin – Llyria  | ECM Precision Swiss movement, more dazzling at high speed than when they settle for ambience.

Steve Turre – Delicious and Delightful | HighNote Bright, bold flavors: Billy Harper, Larry Willis, and the trombonist, of course. Even the conch shell contributes.

Ralph Alessi – Cognitive Dissonance | CAM Jazz Everyone’s favorite sideman brings his trumpet out front, outshining even pianist Jason Moran.

Rova & the Nels Cline Singers – Celestial Septet | New World
Sax quartet and guitar trio, a perfectly matched band, but sometimes they cancel out each other’s idiosyncrasies.

Peter Evans Quartet – Live in Lisbon | Clean Feed
With pianist Ricardo Gallo tossing bombs every which way, a tough venue for a hard-playing trumpeter.

David Murray Black Saint Quartet – Live in Berlin | Jazzwerkstatt
The piano and bass slots aren’t much, but muscular bass clarinet and monster sax prevail.

James Moody – 4B | IPO Finely aged standards, no rough edges, no flute—just tenor sax framed for posterity, or a romantic dinner.

Erica Lindsay/Sumi Tonooka – Initiation | ARC Unheralded stars team up: Spare, Coltrane-ish sax thrashes a bit with rich, loquacious piano.

Paul Motian/Chris Potter/ Jason Moran – Lost in a Dream | ECM Enigmatic drummer sets two stars adrift, trying to make sense of nothing.

Peter Brötzmann Chicago Tentet + 1 3 – Nights in Oslo | Smalltown Superjazz  Five discs, two with the large band in full fury, three cleaving off subsets deconstructing the mischief.

Evan Parker/Barry Guy/Paul Lytton + Peter Evans – Scenes in the House of Music | Clean Feed
Trumpet enfant terrible can’t rattle the old guys of the Anglo avant-garde.

Curtis Fuller – I Will Tell Her | Capri
A classic Detroit cruiser from the 1950s, the trombonist’s band spiffed up with Keith Oxman’s tenor sax and Al Hood’s trumpet.

William Parker – At Somewhere There | Barnyard Long bass solo, mild and creamy as those things go, followed by experiments on dousn’gouni and double flute.

Roscoe Mitchell and the Note Factory – Far Side | ECM
A double quartet clash: two drummers, two bassists, two thrashing pianos, trumpet sparks to ignite the leader’s sax.

Nels Cline – Dirty Baby | Cryptogramophone
An art box of Ed Ruscha paintings, bracketed by a guitar tour de force on one disc, meaty scraps on another.

Gia Notte – Shades | Gnote Tasty standards from Ellington, Weill, and the usual suspects, saxed up by Don Braden.

David Weiss & Point of Departure – Snuck In | Sunnyside
Twenty-first-century Jazz Messengers, with horns sparring, guitar slinking, and nothing as obvious as hard bop.

Nils Petter Molvaer – Hamada | Thirsty Ear Two bass-and-drums eruptions break the Arctic chill of trumpet and electronic ambience.

Rudresh Mahanthappa & Bunky Green – Apex | Pi Ever the chameleon, he could pass for Green’s old partner, Sonny Stitt, at the bebop joust.

Mort Weiss – Raising the Bar | SMS Jazz Small businessman, picked up the clarinet at 65, plays solo on well-worn covers, gets by on charm.

Nilson Matta’s Brazilian Voyage – Copacabana | Zoho
The bass pulse of Brazil, with Harry Allen’s elegant sax swing and wisps of flute.

Jason Robinson – The Two Faces of Janus | Cuneiform
Backed with a fleet-footed band, with crucial interventions by Marty Ehrlich and Rudresh Mahanthappa.

Food Quiet – Inlet | ECM Thomas Strønen’s electronics overcome his percussion, devolving into ambiencelaced with Iain Ballamy reeds.

Brad Mehldau – Highway Rider | Nonesuch Two discs of string-swept pastorale, dotted by the occasional Joshua Redman oasis.


Jason Robinson and Anthony Davis – Cerulean Landscapes | Clean Feed
Sax-piano duets, limited palette, fancy abstractions. B


Metropole Orkest 54 | Emarcy
Vince Mendoza rolls out so much red carpet for John Scofield that nobody notices the guest star. B MINUS

Puttin’ on the Ritz White Light/White Heat | Hot Cup
Sometimes, when they try to kill, they only maim themselves. C PLUS

Geoffrey Himes’ Best of 2010 list (JJA)

1. Rudresh Mahanthappa & Bunky Green: Apex (Pi)
2. Jason Moran: Ten (Blue Note)
3. Bill Frisell: Beautiful Dreamers (Savoy Jazz)
4. Ralph Towner/Paolo Fresu: Chiaroscuro (ECM)
5. Cyrus Chestnut: Journeys (Jazz Legacy)
6. Guillermo Klein: Domador de Huellas (Sunnyside)
7. Dave Douglas & Keystone: Spark of Being (Greenleaf)
8. Jason Robinson and Anthony Davis: Cerulean Landscape (Clean Feed)
9. Vijay Iyer: Solo (ACT)
10. SFJazz Collective: Live 2010 (SFJazz)
11. Antonio Sanchez: Live in New York (CamJazz)

12. Julian Arguelles Trio: Ground Rush (Clean Feed)
13. Steve Coleman and Five Elements: Harvesting Semblances and Affinities (Pi)
14. The Dave Holland Octet: Pathways (Dare2)
15. Matthew Shipp: 4D (Thirsty Ear)
16. Michael Formanek: The Rub and Spare Change (ECM)
17. Ralph Alessi: Cognitive Dissonance (CamJazz)
18. Junko Onishi: Baroque (Verve)
19. Randy Weston and his African Rhythms Sextet: The Storyteller (Motema)
20. Jean-Michel Pilc: True Story (Dreyfus)

All About Jazz review by Troy Collins

Jason Robinson / Anthony Davis – Cerulean Landscape (CF 198)
“If Ellington were to collaborate with science fiction author Samuel R. Delany, one might encounter a cerulean landscape.” This evocative quote from the liner notes to Cerulean Landscape, multi-reedist Jason Robinson’s long-awaited duo album with legendary pianist Anthony Davis, paints a vivid picture of their mutual admiration for the work of Duke Ellington and his colorful interpretations of the blues—in all its forms.
Robinson has been performing live with Davis (his former professor) since 1998, subsequently recording their first duets for his 2002 concept album Tandem (Accretions). An active member of both the East and West Coast scenes, Robinson is a gifted artist on the rise whose concurrently released debut as a bandleader, The Two Faces of Janus (Cuneiform, 2010) offers a compelling demonstration of his varied talents.
An esteemed member of the AACM whose reputation was established in the mid-1970s Loft Jazz scene, Davis went on to compose award winning operas like X, The Life and Times of Malcolm X and Amistad, in addition to numerous chamber, choral and symphonic works. Cerulean Landscape is a return to form for the veteran improviser, featuring some of his most capacious and unfettered soloing in years.
Setting their engaging dialogues in brilliant relief, this sumptuous session reveals the subtle nuances of their longstanding rapport, as Davis’ opulent chords and cascading right hand figures dance gingerly around Robinson’s mellifluous tenor. Alternating between sonic extremes, the duo intersperses passages of lilting lyricism with trenchant essays in discordant angularity, occasionally segueing from regal Ellingtonian splendor to fervid crescendos within the same piece.
Like Davis, Robinson’s aesthetic seamlessly combines inside and outside approaches. Structuring his narrative solos with a keen architectural logic, Robinson gracefully pivots from plangent refrains to coarse screeds, incorporating an array of extended techniques into expansive ruminations that trace their lineage from Coleman Hawkins to Albert Ayler.
Davis and Robinson’s pellucid restraint provides a sweeping, romantic undercurrent to “Shimmer,” “Someday I’ll Know” and “Cerulean Seas And Viridian Skies.” “Translucence” explores the tenuous line between the composed and the improvised, a quixotic meditation featuring Robinson’s diaphanous alto flute and Davis’ effervescent impressionism. Delving into vanguard territory, Robinson’s labyrinthine “Vicissitudes (For Mel)” and the episodic title track from Davis’ Of Blues and Dreams (Sackville, 1978) spotlight a series of terse dialogues fraught with coruscating cadences and brash arpeggios. Similarly abstruse, “Andrew” transposes a Monkish melody into an acerbic exploration of thorny variations.
Balancing mainstream and avant-garde concepts with characteristic grace, Robinson and Davis’ congenial interplay offers a consummate summation of the jazz tradition in its most conversational and fundamental form—the duet.

Point of departure review by Ed Hazell

Jason Robinson – The Two Faces of Janus (Cuneiform)
Jason Robinson – Cerberus Reigning (Accretions)
Jason Robinson + Anthony Davis – Cerulean Landscapes ( CF198)
It’s hard to get a handle on some musicians. Their CDs trickle out one at a time on different small labels with haphazard distribution. One or two might cross your path and catch your attention, but it takes a concentrated effort to track down a representative sample. Or the whimsical forces of the jazz “business” and artistic output can converge – as  they have for saxophonist-composer Jason Robinson this fall – and several simultaneous releases can make a clearer picture snap into view.

Three new CDs by Robinson – a wide-ranging collection of ensemble pieces, a subtle and thoughtful duet with pianist Anthony Davis, and a solo electro-acoustic album – paint an impressive picture indeed. A Californian now based at Amherst College in Massachusetts, Robinson brings a penetrating intellect and a warm expansive sound to each of these projects. He has well developed ideas specific to each setting and it’s the clear thinking behind them as much as the genuine feeling he conveys that mark him as an exceptional new voice.

Clearly he’s a composer and improviser with skill and ambition that have far outstripped the recognition he’s received. Eyes in the Back of My Head, the 2008 Cuneiform release by Cosmologic, the collaborative quartet of which he’s a member, probably garnered wider attention than other release he appeared on. His own albums, including Tandem (Accretions), a 2002 duet album with heavy hitters such as George Lewis, Davis, and Peter Kowald, and another solo album have languished in obscurity.

On The Two Faces of Janus, Robinson uses reed players Marty Ehrlich, Rudresh Mahantappa, guitarist Liberty Ellman, bassist Drew Gress, and drummer George Schuller in different combinations ranging from duos to full sextet. As a composer, Robinson, who holds a Ph.D. in music from the University of California, San Diego, uses his learning in the best possible way: as a foundation for his own original creativity. The legacy of bebop lingers in the long, twisting melody of “Return to Pacasmayo” and you can sense the presence of Ellington in the sensuous voicings of “Tides of Consciousness Fading,” but ultimately what you hear is Robinson. His compositions are well constructed, with every note accounted for and every phrase in place, which gives them a lyrical economy and clarity that admirably focuses and sets up the soloists. “The Elders,” for instance, is a piece that ebbs and flows over shifting tempos and never seems to settle harmonically. Robinson and the rhythm section keep the entire performance floating in the ambiguous space defined by the composition. The focus is also evident on two brief duets with Ehrlich, “Huaca de la Luna,” which is confined primarily to exploring timbre, and “Huaca del Sol,” which is an exercise in linear counterpoint. As a soloist Robinson has a warm, friendly tone, assertive, but not aggressive, and a modest way of delivering really swinging and often brilliant ideas, sort of like a modern day Hank Mobley. On “Paper Tiger,” played with just Gress and Schuller, and “Cerberus Reigning,” with the quartet again, he doesn’t rub his solos in your face, but if you pay attention, there’s plenty to hear.

Robinson’s sense of musical architecture as a composer and soloist makes him a good match for pianist Anthony Davis, with whom he studied at the University of California, San Diego. Cerulean Landscape is a deeply engaged conversation, subtle, informed, and thoughtful without being pedantic or stuffy. The music has a satisfying balance and there’s an intimate glow in the lively interplay play of ideas between them. “Andrew,” for example, sets up two polar extremes – a Cecil Taylor like theme of wide intervals and a snaking Tristano-like line. Robinson and Davis interweave the two approaches in a variety of ways, sometimes alternating hot and cold phrases, sometimes letting passages crescendo or decrescendo, sometimes fusing the two within the same phrase. “Translucence” (which features Robinson’s sumptuous alto flute playing) and “Shimmer” draw on Ellington and Mingus as well as Debussy and Janacek, and they use the resulting harmonic and rhythmic vocabulary – sort of jazzy, sort of not – in graceful and articulate performances. Davis dusts off “Of Blues and Dreams” for a well-paced, architecturally solid exploration that skillfully blends writing and improvising.

On Cerberus Reigning, Robinson ventures into territory that’s quite different from the Cuneiform and Clean Feed discs. The second of a projected trilogy of solo performances, this disc features Robinson on tenor and soprano saxophones and alto flute, all electronically manipulated in real time. The music, as he points out, is less about the individual instruments and more about the performer who is generating and structuring sound. As he’s shown on his two other fall 2010 releases, Robinson is has a highly developed ability to structure music, either spontaneously or in writing, so each track is shaped into a pleasing whole. The electronic manipulations form structural elements, looped samples create patterns, tempos are controlled, and distorted lines make melodic contours impossible to make any other way. But tone color and texture play larger roles here than on the other two discs. Robinson uses the technology to create a huge palette of electro-acoustic sound, ranging from glassy drones to Jew’s harp twangs to watery bubbles. As Robinson writes in the liner notes, he’s a fan of Greek and Roman mythology and science fiction, and rethinks certain stories to “create new myth-science narratives.” Sometimes sounds that resemble the wind or waves or a foghorn evoke settings that reinforce the dreamlike mythic narrative that loosely guides the disc. On three tracks he performs duets with a program that generates music independent from or in response to his instrumental input. For Robinson, the technology becomes a means to extend the storytelling power of jazz, expand sonic possibilities, and build structures unique to the fusion of acoustic and electronic sound production. It’s this ability to consider and simultaneously work with so many aspects of the situations he creates for himself that mark Robinson as a composer and performer to watch.

The Stash Dauber review

Jason Robinson /Anthony Davis – Cerulean Landscape (CF 198 )
In the fullness of time, the ’70s have come to seem (to your humble chronicler o’ events, at least) like a golden age of jazz, possibly because that was when I was discovering the music. The thrill of the new sticks with you. Back in the ’70s, some of my favorite recordings were duos — a format that, besides being inexpensive to record and a reflection of the influence of the AACM, also tended to throw the performers’ individual contributions and interaction between them into brilliant relief.

Bassist Charlie Haden was responsible for some of the ones I loved best: Closeness and The Golden Number with revolving casts of partners, and As Long As There’s Music with pianist Hampton Hawes. (If you’re lucky enough to live in Fort Worth, Doc’s Records had the first two of those the last time I looked.)

Another recording from the period I recall today with some fondness was pianist Anthony Davis’ Of Blues and Dreams, which, atypically for the time, was largely through-composed, a finely wrought set of chamber jazz. Davis went on to compose operas and teach at universities, but the latest batch of Clean Feed releases includes this 2008 date that pairs him with multi-reed man Jason Robinson, with whom he’s been duetting since 1998.

For the most part, the pieces that Robinson and Davis prepared for this set are almost Ellingtonian in their lapidary elegance and beauty, highlighting the richness of Davis’ chordal voicings and Robinson’s big, brawny, Ben Webster-ish tone on tenor. On Robinson’s “Vicissitudes (For Mel)” and the impressionistic title tune from Of Blues and Dreams, which they revisit here, the two men evoke the spirits of Cecil Taylor and Jimmy Lyons. The theme to “Andrew” (which could be a dedication to Mr. Hill, I suppose) has a Monkian angularity. A nice surprise.