If you've ever visited Mendocino County you would have a head start to appreciate saxophonist Jason Robinson's Harmonic Constituent. His week-long retreat to this magnificent Northern California coast inspired this ambitious and diverse recording. Robinson, a musical omnivore previously recorded with the quartet Cosmologic, his Henry Threadgill inspired Janus Ensemble, in duos with Anthony Davis and Eric Hofbauer, and in electro-acoustic settings, to name just a few of his diverse interests.
Like the rugged territory that inspired Robinson, the multifarious music is both wild and placid, both clement and inclement. The quartet opens with the zealous and challenging title track, composed to push and pull his band (and listeners) in varied directions. His muscular tenor attack is parried by the rumbling of White's piano and Smith and Gress' pulse. The composition mines a post-bop tension and release that cannot fail to capture your attention.
From there the music softens (for a bit). Robinson sequenced this recording with four interludes "Phase 1" and "Phase 2," "Shear 1" and "Shear 2." These shortish improvised pieces are performed in duo or trio and they act as the micro to much of the album's macro investigation of the Mendocino coast. We dive back into the undertow with "Seventh Wave," which rolls and rocks by way of Smith's drumming and the hyper piano attack of White. Robinson's tenor lifts off with his unaccompanied solo that works both upper and lower ends the horn's register to great effect. Besides the intensity, there's the beautifully simple melody "Jug Handle," a ballad that should be nominated for consideration as a new jazz standard. Gress takes a luscious solo over Smith's brushwork before giving way to White's piano and the embracing hug of Robinson's tenor saxophone. The composition is repeated as a solo piano performance as the closing piece here, and why not end on a gorgeous note?
Harmonic Constituent; Phase 1; Jug Handle; Shear 1; Seventh Wave; Mélange Geometry; Isobathic
Sounding; Phase 2; The Interval; Apogean Tide; Shear 2; Mountain In Your Mind; Jug Handle (alt).