Pete Robbins, a Bostonian and a recent graduate of Tufts and the New England Conservatory, has now settled in Brooklyn. Judging from Centric, the alto saxophonist and composer will be a welcome presence on the creative music scene. Paul Bley's liner notes give Robbins a strong and well-earned endorsement.
Leading a quintet through eight intense and thoughtful originals, Robbins displays a keen imagination and a rousing command of his horn. He also surrounds himself with serious talent, most notably tenor titan George Garzone, who blows like a demon throughout the session. Robbins voices many of the melodic lines for alto and tenor in octaves, bringing the sonic field into balance while giving the music cohesion and character. Guitarist Mike Gamble plays crisply and leaves the harmonic spectrum wide open, comping only on the more tonal pieces, where it's necessary. Listeners will also remember Gamble for his creative arsenal of sounds - the accelerating loop effects of "Screwgun" and the post-Hendrix sound-washes of "Swimthere" in particular.
Bassist Chris van Voorst van Beest and drummer Pete Zimmer are also indispensable, navigating Robbins' edgy, often odd-metered rhythmic constructions with a flowing, breathing finesse. "Centric" gets the program off to a calmly swinging start, but the album often ventures into dirtier, funkier waters, on tracks like "Hone" and the dark rhythm section feature "Somnabulist". Robbins also cultivates a lyrical, straight-eighth vibe on "Reach" and "Geist", both mellower but still tension-filled. The surprisingly upbeat finale, "Themefrom", could indeed be a TV or movie theme. But an explosive half-time funk break, with raucous fuzz-guitar wailing courtesy of Gamble, repeatedly breaks up the happy samba feel. This is a good example of Robbins doing his best not to settle into expected patterns or categories.