Herb Robertson: Parallelisms; Celebrations; Live at Alchemia

Sean Patrick Fitzell By

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Herb Robertson
Ruby Flower Records

Gratkowski / Robertson / Nabatov / Manderscheid
Leo Records

Herb Robertson Trio
Live at Alchemia
Not Two Records

Trumpeter Herb Robertson relentlessly pursues new avenues of self-expression and collective interplay, never content to repeat or take the familiar approach. Three recent CDs reveal him as a patient, probing improviser who allows ideas to emerge and forges novel soundscapes with non-typical instrumentation.

Parallelisms features Robertsonâ????s trumpet, cornet and vocalizations with two seasoned improvisers: tenor and soprano saxophonist Evan Parker and pianist Agusti Fernandez. All three explore extended techniques, as interested in sounds and textures as in the notes themselves—some noises could be mistaken for electronics. Robertson divides the pieces between free improvisations and "realizations", which he guides with sketched ideas for the others to interpret.

The realization "Spore Attic Basement" opens with each musician taking an unaccompanied turn: Parker approximates electric guitar drones, Fernandez achieves metallic percussive sounds with prepared piano and Robertson creates haunting, disembodied tones buzzing through his horn. As the interaction unfolds, phrases begin as snippets and then slowly built into longer converging lines. Similarly, on the title track, the musicians spin phrases that drift together then veer apart, playing off each other in a rapid call and response. The clipped energetic bursts on the peppy "The Living Daylight" contrast the sustained tones and otherworldly textures of "Susurration", revealing the trioâ????s range.

With the exception of the added acoustic bass of Dieter Manderscheid, the instrumentation on Celebrations is similar to that of Parallelisms. But with Frank Gratkowskiâ????s reeds replacing Parkerâ????s and Simon Nabatov at the piano, the personalities and approaches are necessarily different. Recorded in concert, the lengthy four-part improvisation takes dramatic twists, with players dropping out or pairing for duet sections, always moving and altering the sounds to extend the tonal palette. It opens atmospherically, as the musicians tentatively introduce phrases and begin their dialogue. Robertson and Gratkowski exchange purred tones during a duet, the energy escalating with the return of bass and piano. The sonic waves of "Celebration III" crash and ebb with the four players moving as one, before an engaging trumpet and bass exchange and a pounded flurry from Nabatov, punctuating the lower register rumbles with higher-note bursts.

Robertson and Gratkowski join with Julien Petitâ????s tenor and baritone saxophones to form the Herb Robertson Trio. It is expanded to a quintet with the guest rhythm section of bassist Marcin Oles and drummer Bartlomiej Brat Oles on Live at Alchemia. The rhythm team propels the miniature "2 Phone Addicts" with an insistent beat under the energetic, swirling horns. On "Fluttering", the mallet drumming introduction implies melodic intent, to which the brass and reeds respond, trading and mirroring increasingly complex statements with the drummer. Vast territory is covered from free blowing density to spare textures, often within a single piece. There is even the developed melodic theme and a slower pace of "Ballad For Bacchanalia Harbor", which gently concludes the concert.

Tracks and Personnel


Tracks: Spore Attic Basement; Trichotomy; Parallelisms; Susurration; The Living Daylight; Vim Chattering.

Personnel: Herb Robertson: trumpet, cornet, soprano hunting horn, mutes, attachments, vocals; Evan Parker: tenor and soprano saxophones; Agusti Fernandéz: extended piano.


Tracks: Celebration I; Celebration II; Celebration III; Celebration IV.

Personnel: Frank Gratkowski: alto saxophone, clarinet, bass and contrabass clarinet; Herb Robertson: trumpet and cornet; Simon Nabatov: piano, e-bows, cracklebox; Dieter Manderscheid: double bass.

Live at Alchemia

Tracks: Nebula; Fluttering; 2 phone Addicts; It Doesn't Work Like That!; Discombobulating; A Precarious Situation; Ballad For Bacchanalia Harbor.

Personnel: Herb Robertson: trumpet, cornet, mutes; Frank Gratkowski: alto saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet; Julien Petit: tenor, baritone saxophones; Marcin OleÅ: double bass; BartÅ'omiej Brat OleÅ: drums.


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