Friday, January 25, 2013

CD Review: Jason Robinson - Tiresian Symmetry

Jason Robinson
Tiresian Symmetry

This is the time of year when I usually hit upon albums that I completely missed during the previous year. These are things that flew under my radar for any number of reasons (the biggest usually being, "That looks cool, I'll have to check it out sometime soon"), only to find it in near the top of the year end lists. Granted it's a rare breed of writer who can keep up with everything. On the Rhapsody website, critic Tom Hull said he reviewed 535 new jazz albums last year. That is both admirable and - when you do the math - exhausting, especially if you factor in box sets. I think last year Peter Margasak had a Top 40 of 2011.

But enough of a set-up. Jason Robinson's Tiresian Symmetry is my this-is-amazing-how'd-I'd-put-this-off-you-need-to-check-it-out-ASAP release. It comes from Cuneiform, the long-standing adventurous label that had a banner year overall (to name few: Wadada Leo Smith's four-disc Ten Freedom Summers  and Living by Lanterns' New Myth/Old Science which I reviewed here). I listened to it several times without checking out the liner notes so his concept of the myth of Tiresias and the numerical relationship didn't affect my listening at first. (According to Greek myth, this soothsayer lived for seven generations, both as a man and a woman, giving Robinson the idea to explore relationships between 7 and 2.) What caught my attention are the different sections of the title track and "Radiate" which each continue for 10 engaging minutes each.

Sometimes Robinson's writing reminds of me of Tim Berne's more subdued tunes, where things move gently but the horns feel like they're ready to go wild, and time signatures change on a dime. This happens a lot in the last couple songs, but "Saros" not only has that going for it, it starts with JD Parran doing some great contra-bass clarinet squonking. After the nine-piece band states the theme, things move into a tuba (or maybe bass trombone) solo, and when Robinson takes a solo spot, one of the lower brass guys starts wailing through his horn behind him.

The instrumentation is intriguing enough, but the personnel is the kind that should pull people in too. Robinson plays alto flute and soprano sax. Allan also handles alto clarinet and tenor. Along with them on the front line is Marty Ehrlich (alto sax, bass clarinet, C flute). Marcus Rojas and Bill Lowe both play tuba, creating some beautiful harmonies on the level of French horns on "Radiate." (Lowe doubles on bass trombone.) Drew Gress handles bass, Liberty Ellman adds some guitar solos, and the double-team of Ches Smith and George Schuller both play drums (Smith also plays glockenspeil) without getting too busy or thunderous.

This album was released back around September, but if you missed it then, now is the time to discover it. Not being familiar with Robinson's work, this disc makes me want to explore his back catalog too.

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