As a neglected and final recording session by a neglected, largely unknown tenor saxophonist with a remarkable story, The CTS Session, recorded by Spike Robinson in 1998 but released only recently, could easily become the recipient of overly charitable evaluations on the one hand, or abrupt dismissals on the other. It's neither a grand, triumphant goodbye nor a minor, salvaged leftover but a supremely satisfying encounter between a master musician and a compatible, equally experienced rhythm section (Crow and Williams were key members of Stan Getz' Quintet in the mid '50s)a recording, moreover, that does justice to the memory of the leader's special talent.
1998 was also the year of Spike Robinson's return visit to his and my home town of Kenosha, Wisconsin as well as my introduction to this virtually "invisible" tenor giant who, between his brief stint in the Navy and 35-year career as an engineer, stayed away from music and his horn until he was 56 years old! Once he made the jump to "playing for a living," he quickly made up for lost time, recording over twenty albums with artists such as Al Cohn (Henry B. Meets Alvin G., Capri 1988/2000); Harry "Sweets" Edison (Just a Bit O' the Blues, Capri 1988/1993); Red Mitchell (Real Corker, Capri 1991; Mundell Lowe (Reminiscin', Capri 1992); Ellyn Rucker (Nice Work, Capri 1995); Ray Brown and Victor Feldman (Plays Harry Warren, Hep 1981/2004).
Robinson's style and sound evoke the legendary Four Brothers of Woody Herman's 2nd Herd. In fact, in a blindfold test a listener could be forgiven for mistaking him for a Getz, Al Cohn or Zoot Sims, were it not for his long, uninterrupted melodic lines, the musical paths of a traveler who sees his goal far in advance and refuses to let up until he's reached it. He reaches it on the ballad "If She Walked into My Life," played with such expressive feeling that it hurts, the pain stemming from the recognition that the artist has been to a place more lovely, dark and deep than the listener'sbeauty purchased at a steep price.
Spike Robinson was the last of a breedan unassuming, unpretentious, gentle and amicable traveling tenor troubadour who had his share of demons but basically no other aim than to play his horn and give pleasure through a melodic gift that could never be taught. Most of his albums are already out of print, and I rarely encounter a Kenoshan who remembers him or who has even heard of him. Somehow, I doubt Robinson would much care. He made a living, then rounded out his life by actually doing some living. How many of us can claim the same?
Personnel: Spike Robinson: tenor saxophone; John Williams: piano; Bill Crow: bass; Peter Cater: drums;
Louis Stewart: guitar.