"If Ellington were to collaborate with science fiction author Samuel R. Delany, one might encounter a cerulean landscape." This evocative quote from the liner notes to Cerulean Landscape, multi-reedist Jason Robinson's long-awaited duo album with legendary pianist Anthony Davis, paints a vivid picture of their mutual admiration for the work of Duke Ellington and his colorful interpretations of the bluesin all its forms.
Robinson has been performing live with Davis (his former professor) since 1998, subsequently recording their first duets for his 2002 concept album Tandem (Accretions). An active member of both the East and West Coast scenes, Robinson is a gifted artist on the rise whose concurrently released debut as a bandleader, The Two Faces of Janus (Cuneiform, 2010) offers a compelling demonstration of his varied talents.
An esteemed member of the AACM whose reputation was established in the mid-1970s Loft Jazz scene, Davis went on to compose award winning operas like X, The Life and Times of Malcolm X and Amistad, in addition to numerous chamber, choral and symphonic works. Cerulean Landscape is a return to form for the veteran improviser, featuring some of his most capacious and unfettered soloing in years.
Setting their engaging dialogues in brilliant relief, this sumptuous session reveals the subtle nuances of their longstanding rapport, as Davis' opulent chords and cascading right hand figures dance gingerly around Robinson's mellifluous tenor. Alternating between sonic extremes, the duo intersperses passages of lilting lyricism with trenchant essays in discordant angularity, occasionally segueing from regal Ellingtonian splendor to fervid crescendos within the same piece.
Like Davis, Robinson's aesthetic seamlessly combines inside and outside approaches. Structuring his narrative solos with a keen architectural logic, Robinson gracefully pivots from plangent refrains to coarse screeds, incorporating an array of extended techniques into expansive ruminations that trace their lineage from Coleman Hawkins to Albert Ayler.
Davis and Robinson's pellucid restraint provides a sweeping, romantic undercurrent to "Shimmer," "Someday I'll Know" and "Cerulean Seas And Viridian Skies." "Translucence" explores the tenuous line between the composed and the improvised, a quixotic meditation featuring Robinson's diaphanous alto flute and Davis' effervescent impressionism. Delving into vanguard territory, Robinson's labyrinthine "Vicissitudes (For Mel)" and the episodic title track from Davis' Of Blues and Dreams (Sackville, 1978) spotlight a series of terse dialogues fraught with coruscating cadences and brash arpeggios. Similarly abstruse, "Andrew" transposes a Thelonious Monkish melody into an acerbic exploration of thorny variations.
Balancing mainstream and avant-garde concepts with characteristic grace, Robinson and Davis' congenial interplay offers a consummate summation of the jazz tradition in its most conversational and fundamental formthe duet.
Shimmer; Someday I'll Know; Vicissitudes (for Mell); Translucence; Of Blues And Dreams; Andrew; Cerulean Seas And Viridian Skies.
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