Jason Robinson Janus Ensemble: San Diego, CA, June 2, 2011
San Diego, CA
June 2, 2011
Saxophonist/composer Jason Robinsonwhose dual release of The Two Faces Of Janus (Cuneiform, 2010), and Cerulean Landscape (Clean Feed, 2010), put him on the map of wider recognitionfinally made his impending departure from San Diego official with this farewell concert, held at Dizzy's.
Robinson has spent the better part of 13 years in San Diego since arriving in 1998 to study with renowned composer Anthony Davis at UCSD. While here, he cofounded the important free jazz co-op Cosmologic, with trombonist Michael Dessen, bassist Scott Walton and drummer Nathan Hubbard, and his relationship with Davis matured from student to collaborator.
The saxophonist has been splitting his time between here and Amherst, Massachusetts, where he's been teaching for the last three years; in July, 2011, his wife is poised to make the move to New England permanent.
While he was back east, Robinson organized the New York version of his Janus Ensemble, which features guitarist Liberty Ellman, bassist Drew Gress, drummer George Schuller, and fellow horn players Marty Ehrlich and Rudresh Mahanthappa.
The West Coast version of the Janus Ensemble assembled for this event had a core unit with pianist Joshua White, bassist Rob Thorsen and drummer Duncan Moore. Longtime associate Dessen was featured most of the tunes, while Davis joined Robinson on several pieces. The saxophonist also expanded the group to include a seven-piece woodwind ensemble, consisting of alto flautist/soprano saxophonist David Borgo, tenor saxophonist Colin Friedkin, flautist/trombonist Andy Geib, bass clarinetist Gabriel Sundy, flautist/soprano saxophonist Ellen Weller, and trumpeter Jeff Kaiser, who also conducted.
The concert began with the core quartet resting, while Robinson spun a long opening cadenza that revisited John Coltrane circa Crescent (Impulse!, 1964). He found a particularly reverberant spot on the stage which highlighted his lush, probing tenor excursion. The saxophone began inserting more late Coltrane-isms into his story, and eventually slipped into long, held multiphonics and slap-tongued squawks and squeals to finish up. White entered with chords voiced in fourths over Thorsen's insistent pedaling, and the band jumped into to Robinson's "The Wiggle Room," a furious free-bop piece that alternated between a wicked 4/4 time and a suspended section over pedal tones.
White came bursting out of the gates with disjointed fragments punctuated by dissonant chords and clanging repetitions over Thorsen's open G string and Moore's martial snare drum rhythms. Robinson started building a solo that coiled sequences from the lowest notes on his tenor spiraling up to the altissimo register. After a brief but explosive drum solo, the band took the tune out in unison.
Anthony Davis then joined Robinson for a glorious reading of "Shimmer," an aria from the opera Amistadcomposed by the pianist about the Spanish slave ship rebellion in the early 1800s. Robinson coaxed an almost soprano-like timbre from his tenor, while Davis supported him with lilting block chords and probing arpeggios. After the melody, Davis worked a fiendish solo that had his right hand cascading streams of notes against a jabbing left hand. "Shimmer" ended with hushed tones that drifted into the ether.
With Davis remaining at the piano, Thorsen and Moore returned and the woodwind ensemble took its seats for Robinson's "Silence Becomes A Roar." The piano began with quiet tinkling, evolving into nervous fragments that ramped up the tension while the bass laid down some serious ostinati. Suddenly, the woodwind ensemble entered with some oblique harmonies and Robinson began the melody, steeped in the blues. The winds were exquisitely voiced, and the composition started to take on echoes of Mingus-meets-Oliver Nelson-meets Muhal Richard Abrams. Dessen hit the ground running, with material from the blues scale organized in a totally fresh fashionavoiding clichés while keeping both feet in the gut-bucket. David Borgo rose for a solo that chirped and fluttered, before adapting a grittier and grainier aesthetic that plunged straight into the blues with warbled vocalizations.
Davis spun a very lyrical statement, with long strands of melody that wrapped around each other and definitely told a story. After a short, pointed drum solo, Robinson played call and response with himself while the woodwinds orbited around him with alternately supportive harmony and disruptive cacophony.