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With Invisible Cities, trombonist Steve Swell and clarinetist Perry Robinson have created a unique snapshot of duo improvisation that, as much as it sounds like a Saturday afternoon loft rehearsal when the rhythm section was too busy, is a compelling document of the affinity between improvisers.
Robinson, of course, is the veteran of the two, having recorded his first LP, Funk Dumpling, with Henry Grimes for Savoy over forty years ago, as well as working with Gunter Hampel, Archie Shepp, Roswell Rudd and numerous others. Swell’s, in a span half as long as Robinson’s, has solidified a place as the contemporary creative trombonist of choice, working regularly in the brass chair with Lou Grassi, William Parker and Dominic Duval. Swell and Robinson complement one another perfectly, like Roswell Rudd and Steve Lacy—Swell the punchy gutbucket with astounding technical facility, Robinson occupying a uniquely subtle sound world of bent notes (‘is that a duck call?!?’) and austere cadences. For rather than extending the Giuffre school of clarinet, Robinson occupies the midway between two Rudd foils: Giuseppi Logan and John Tchicai, embodying both a penchant for viciously dissociative runs and a witty, cool swing. One doesn’t often have the opportunity to hear such unadulterated Perry Robinson, so this is a case of a real treat.
The lengthy “Rumor Exists under Abolished Victims” presents a series of unaccompanied passages over its eight minutes, punctuated by brief snippets of melodic dialogue. The dialogues themselves are not entirely made up of free jazz-cum-Dixieland collective improvisation, but rather run the gamut from languid tonal explorations (Robinson’s clarinet mimicking a toy recorder, a harmonica and a trombone on “Shallow Facades...”) to singsong romps (“Children’s Song”). In these dialogues, Swell occupies a unique place in that, like Rudd and Bob Brookmeyer before him, he is able to provide both melodic and rhythmic support to an ensemble otherwise devoid of a rhythm section—he is able to provide the antics-filled conversation with a sense of purpose that it might otherwise not have.