Over the past decade, street-savvy, hard-hitting urban quartet Cosmologic has built its high-impact, low-comfort-zone approach to groupwork that recalls Anthony Braxton's small-band intelligence and The Fringe's raw energy. The California-based band enjoys bumpy textures, aggressive stances, loose-wheeled (if not off-track) soloing and equal voices for horns and rhythm players.
The writing in Eyes in the Back of My Head, generally implied rather than scored, is weighted equally between drummer Nathan Hubbard (longish suite-like pieces that roil and reflect in jagged parts), trombonist Michael Dessen ("Code View"'s open-ended circle jam rumbles into weird chorale and out to hammering dance and "The Rumpus" instigates a group shout) and sax-man Jason Robinson (an impatiently pulsing pro-Darfur rail-wail and a pensive Future/Past poem that opens memorably with a booming arpeggiated bowed bass turn for Scott Walton). A swaggering unison melody for horns alone ends the set.
Fingerprint, on Robinson's newly formed Circumvention Music label, offers quite a different quartet (and perspective on the leader's cross-cultural interests): Hubbard stays on drums with bassist Rob Thorsen and pianist/soprano saxophonist Kamau Kenyatta. Robinson, whose tenor sax owns a burly, robust sound and stirs up skeins of fluttering melody, is sometimes reminiscent of Lew Tabackin's expressive grit and Billy Harper's declamatory keening. He's plenty adventurous in terms of environments and horn sonics (he works stuttering triple-tonguing into his playing like rock salt rubbed on raw steak, as in the opening cadenza of his hauntingly Strayhorn-esque ballad "Conundrum").
The foursome amble unhurriedly across four tidy originals, stretched with juicy vamps and solo spots, and tantalizingly titled like "The Wiggle Room" and "Thin Veil". A trio without Kenyatta expands to quintet on two tracks featuring guest pianist Anthony Davis and Dessen. This quintet is further fleshed out by flute section on "Silence Becomes A Roar," a languid sassy romp balancing 6/8+2/8 with seething solos by Davis and Dessen, where Robinson reaches a sonority that's fuller and deeper amid the treble voices, especially in the framing call-and-response chorales and the all-out coda (composer credits are missing on the CD package, but one can hear Davis' influence). "Forest Cover," a spirited stutter strut, features agile soprano, a feisty duel between Robinson and Dessen and a rattling solo fantasia by Davis. Robinson leads decidedly thoughtful, ebullient explorations into interior creative landscapes.
Tracks and Personnel
Eyes in the Back of My Head
Tracks: The Rumpus; Eyes in the Back of My Head; Dreams of an Alternate Future/Remembering the Past; Face in the Crowd; Code View; Theme for Darfur; The Apex is the Whole; We Kiss in a Shadow on the Other Side of This.
Personnel: Jason Robinson: tenor saxophone; Michael Dessen: trombone; Scott Walton: bass; Nathan Hubbard: drums.
Tracks: The Wiggle Room; Serendipity; Silence Becomes a Roar; Conundrum; Forest Cover; Thin Veil.
Personnel: Jason Robinson: tenor sax; Kamau Kenyatta: piano and soprano sax; Rob Thorsen: bass; Nathan Hubbard: drums; Anthony Davis: piano (3, 5); Michael Dessen: trombone (3, 5); wind ensemble (3): Ellen Weller: flute; Adnan Marquez-Borbon: flute; Andrew Geib: flute; Gabriel Sundy: bass clarinet; Scott Walton: conductor.