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Michael Robinson and Anindo Chatterjee's Reinterpretation of Standards


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After releasing several albums with drummer Eliot Zigmund in 2022, pianist and composer Michael Robinson starts off 2023 with a series of collaborations with tabla master Anindo Chatterjee. Similar to his other duo and solo sessions these are long improvisations on popular tunes both from the Great American Songbook as well as some rock and roll standards. Two of these releases are highlighted Below.

Michael Robinson
Azure Miles

The restless Begin, for example, is perhaps the longest interpretation of The Beatles' "Hey Jude" on record, clocking at 77 minutes. Opening with Chatterjee's rapid fire beats and konnakol vocals, the performance transforms into a laid-back deconstruction of this well-known tune. Robinson often adorns his spontaneous phrases with melodic fragments from the main theme highlighting the unique potential within the original.

Chatterjee's complex rhythms complement Robinson's percussive style well. Both men create a dramatic ambience with their resonant and reverberating sound. Robinson often contrasts his own laid back lyricism with eerily crashing chords. Chatterjee responds with subtle modulations of his strokes without sacrificing his signature clarity and crispness. The poignancy of these exchanges reflect a deep camaraderie and understanding among the two musicians.

A few motifs repeat and transform slowly throughout this extensive and expansive duet always adding something new, yet maintaining the conceptual unity. The hypnotic refrains add a level of spirituality while the inventiveness of the extemporization moves and stimulates. Perhaps most remarkably, the music here is a perfect fusion of Eastern and Western traditions, especially near its conclusion where Robinson injects some boogie-woogie pianism before returning to the head.

Michael Robinson
Those Sighs
Azure Miles

The significantly more relaxed Those Sighs comprises two standards both composed for films, the noirish "Angel Eyes" and the wistful "(Love Is) The Tender Trap." The former is penned by pianist Matt Dennis and popularized by vocalist Ella Fitzgerald and the latter, of course, is songwriter James Van Heusen's work that vocalist Frank Sinatra made a hit.

Robinson's dramatic take of the first track underscores the simmering emotion within the main melody while Chatterjee makes his reverberating beats glide smoothly over the piano's crystalline notes. As the pair wanders further away from the main melody, it transforms the tune into an angular and introspective repartee often flirting with eerie dissonance. Robinson periodically reintroduces the main motif as he quotes from Dennis' composition before venturing into another contemplative monologue. Chatterjee matches both Robinson's mood and bursts of percussive chords with his own softly resonant tabla beats.

The second piece similarly starts off with a laid-back retelling of the original. Robinson then transforms it into a bluesy exercise of virtuosity with a faster tempo, as Chatterjee propels the improvisation further. Midway, the performance becomes an exercise in harmonic abstraction and a delightfully heady exploration of sound.

This far-out interpretation of the standard is neither self-indulgent nor abstruse. In fact it has plenty of mellifluous passages and a hefty dose of whimsy. Both of these elements make it a brilliantly engaging and emotionally satisfying listening exercise.

With each project Robinson continues to invent new forms of musical expression. His knowledge of the classics of popular music combined with his singular creative vision allow him to produce these mesmerizing works. Having a knack in choosing like-minded collaborators endows these recordings with another dimension.

Tracks and Personnel


Tracks: Hey Jude.

Personnel: Michael Robinson: piano; Anindo Chatterjee: tabla, vocals.

Those Sighs

Tracks: (Love Is) The Tender Trap; Angel Eyes.

Personnel: Michael Robinson: piano; Anindo Chatterjee: tabla, vocals.

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