Jason Robinson Janus Ensemble: San Diego, CA, June 2, 2011
Moore opened up "The Two Faces Of Janus" with hands across the toms and snare for a vaguely African, conga sounding groove, soon joined by Thorsen's probing bass vamp while White returned to the piano chair with knotty voicings. Sundy and Dessen took to the stage, and all three horns began jostling the melody in a very loose unison. Robinson leapt into his solo, igniting sparks of racing scales that stopped to worry a phrase, then blasted into upper register squealing punctuations. Sundy navigated between pure, chocolaty singing in the lower regions to yelping forays in the altissimo, while Robinson and Dessen flanked him with sporadic commentary.
Davis returned for another duet, this one a medley of Robinson's "Vicissitudes (For Mel Graves)" and the pianist's "Of Blues And Dreams." The saxophonist began with repeated trills and short fragments of scalar runs. Things got real quiet, then Davis erupted with electric energypounding thunderous left hand clusters and melodic declaratives that sounded like a player piano about to explode. The second piece featured the two musicians trading off on the melodyeach exploring sections on their own. Davis unleashed a skittish solo with surging contours, and Robinson responded with a throaty vibrato circling around the ruminative piano harmonies.
The expanded ensemble returned for "Tides Of Consciousness Fading." Kaiser conducted, while the winds played long, held dissonant intervals in a manner that recalled multi-instrumentalist Anthony Braxton's work for large groups. Certain members held the long tones while others, like Weller and Dessen, were given wild card roles to solo at will. All the while, drummer Moore anchored the proceedings with soft mallets, repeating a dark, throbbing beat.
"Cerberus Reigning" seemed to be written as a feature for the rhythm section. Thorsen led off with wide, bowed harmonics moving into a dark arco melody, shifting on a dime to a brisk pizzicato walk then straight into pedaling over Moore's funky hi-hat groove and rim-shot chatter. The bassist got in a pleasantly off-kilter solo that mirrored the song's contours and White followed with a florid piano excursion. Starting very slowly, Moore built a masterful drum sequence of controlled abandon.
Everyone assembled onstage for the finale, "Forest Cover," which began very freely, with squeaks and squalls over atonal harmonies. Both trombonists utilized their plunger mutes for almost obscene chortling. A melody and form emerged, almost like something from Mingus' The Black Saint & The Sinner Lady, (Impulse!, 1963). Several of the excellent ensemble members got a chance to shine, with Geib taking a long, beautiful trombone solo and Weller continuing with a soprano spot that balanced mayhem and grace. Friedkin stood up and delivered the goods with a tenor solo that reflected his time as a student of Robinson's and his own unique and emerging voice.
Robinson is a major talent who has absorbed the modern saxophone lexicon from 1960s masters such as Archie Shepp to present-day giants like Roscoe Mitchell and Braxton. His farewell concert was a two hour-plus sendoff of blistering free-bop and gorgeous ensemble work. San Diego's loss is New England's gain.