Herb Robertson & Phil Haynes: Ritual
Extended length duo recordings aren’t exactly a scarcity in modern improvised music, but this set effectively raises a high bar nonetheless, both in terms of difficulty and nonidiomatic artistry. Recorded hours after the quartet session that yielded Brooklyn-Berlin (CIMP 221) the disc divides the earlier group down to the creative core of Robertson and Haynes. The program-length piece is parsed into four convenient entry points, but is best listened to straight through in it’s entirety. Their conversation opens with barely audible breath sounds and rubbed percussion. The volume rises almost imperceptibly as Haynes scuttling scrapes and patters are pierced by Robertson’s muffled cries. Later the sounds coalesce into articulated smears and loud percussive clatter forming a clearly underscored forward momentum. Changing to feathery brushes Haynes creates a stark rhythmic contrast to Robertson’s wet whinnies and sputters. Hearing the latter’s sounds it’s difficult not to imagine the streams of saliva being loosed into the metalwork of his horn.
Shortly into ‘Part 2’ Robertson drops out and Haynes is left to tinker rigorously with his kit creating a solo statement that makes the descriptor ‘unconventional’ seem terribly inadequate. Stirring around various objects on the skin surfaces of his drums the effect is as disconcerting as it is fascinating. Robertson’s ferrous timbral streaks on “Part 3” create another interlude of fierce experimentation threatening with their volume to overwhelm the recording mics. Toward the segment’s center he utters a barrage of gulping breath sounds followed by moist gurgling mutters that seem to make light of the amount of energy he is expending. “Part 4” returns the mood to an elegaic one with Robertson exploring a dour theme above the quiet cymbals of his partner.
Free improvisation in this kind of stripped down environment can instantly become a sink or swim proposition. In like fashion there are moments where Ritual seems to take on water, but the duo tempers these moments with many more that can leave the listener scratching his or her chin in admiration. Those listeners whose ears are easily aggravated by non-linear, abstract extemporization are likely to find this disc a chore and nusiance. Inquisitive listeners will find their patience proving a virtue however, particularly in dealing with the performance’s early stages. Much of the time Robertson and Haynes sound as if they’re playing more for themselves than for any audience, but while the introspective nature of much of their exchange can be off-putting, there’s still a great deal here that warrants concentrated listening.
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Track Listing: Ritual, Parts 1-4.
Personnel: Herb Robertson- trumpet; Phil Haynes- drums, percussion.