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Michael Robinson: Piano Improvisation Series

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Depending on the source, New York native, Los Angeles-based multi-instrumentalist/composer Michael Robinson is associated with the electronic, classical, world, or jazz genre. The ambiguousness is a byproduct of an artist whose more than one-hundred-sixty albums have touched upon all those categories. Robinson's influences include Bartók, Yeats, Chinese poetry, Morton Feldman, Lennie Tristano, John Coltrane and Lee Konitz. He has been particularly immersed in the music of North India producing more than a decade's worth of releases on his Azure Miles label. Bhimpalasi (2001), Natabhairavi (2007), and Bhairava (2010), show the artist's evolution in a western/non-western lexicon. In many cases, the music is stylized with the spirit of jazz improvisation though Robinson typically notates all his compositions. His label, Azure Miles Records, has issued the artist's Piano Improvisation Series, taking a different creative approach.

The series features Robinson's acoustic piano on six albums of jazz standards, a pop cover, and one original composition. The artist notes that until very recently in his career, he did not own an acoustic piano. Not Like Before, Somebody Whisper, Wonderful Schemes, For A Whirl, The City Sleeps, and Bounce the Moon were recorded in two sessions in August, 2021. The project came out of an unusual encounter between the artist and the aging mother of a friend. Robinson was playing weekly requests for this audience of one and they were far from his familiar world of ragas and electronics. As he played from the American songbook, he took away an interest in individualizing pieces with his own creative notions.

Michael Robinson
Not Like Before
Azure Miles Records
2021

Robinson's improvisations neither attack nor retreat from the substance of these standards. The first of the albums is Not Like Before. Opening with "42nd Street," Robinson initially embraces the original context but while his left hand provides a hypnotic bass line, the right takes off, dancing in the upper register. The Gershwin brothers' "I Got Rhythm" is bookended with the customary theme but across fifteen-plus minutes Robinson upends the familiar.

Michael Robinson
Somebody Whisper
Azure Miles Records
2021

The extended "Blue Moon" (Richard Rodgers, Lorenz Hart) enters slightly askew but completely recognizable. Shortly in, Robinson slips through harmonic changes rapidly and effortlessly, stretching out this remarkable rendition. The Jule Styne, Sammy Cahn classic, "I Fall In Love Too Easily" opens at a leisurely pace before spinning off in a mesmerizing bluesy/bebop amalgam.

Michael Robinson
Wonderful Schemes
Azure Miles Records
2021

This disc includes a twenty-minute take on another Styne/Cahn standard, "Saturday Night Is the Loneliest Night of the Week." Right from the unhurried introduction, Robinson destabilizes the melody but without completely deconstructing it. In this lengthy interpretation, he gives himself the freedom to explore far-flung tangents. On "Out of Nowhere" Robinson's left-hand bass style again forms the foundation for his percussive reading.

Michael Robinson
For A Whirl
Azure Miles Records
2021 F

Robinson's highly rhythmic phrases and contrasting left give new life to even the most overdone standards, as heard on "My Funny Valentine." Permeated with the blues, the pianist opts for a somewhat starker treatment here. The ancient "Indian Summer" predated jazz but was later absorbed by the likes of Sidney Bechet, Gene Krupa, and Benny Goodman, and kept on ad infinitum. Robinson's avant-garde rendition makes it, perhaps, the most intriguing version in a long time.

Michael Robinson
The City Sleeps
Azure Miles Records
2021

"The Boulevard of Broken Dreams" was originally written as a tango in 1933. It has since been altered endlessly and recorded by an enormous range of musicians from Nat King Cole, to Amy Winehouse, to Puddles Pity Party. Still, Robinson pulls out a fresh handling of the piece, exploiting it differently. He widens the scope so that distinct notes often overshadow melodic lines. Hoagy Carmichael's "Skylark" has had no less of an eclectic history of interpretations and here, Robinson operates on the threshold of fluidity and structure to explore the relationship between composition and free-thinking.

Michael Robinson
Bounce the Moon
Azure Miles Records
2021

"It Happened in Monterey" was popularized by Paul Whiteman's orchestra and written for the 1930 musical film, King of Jazz, Whitman's autobiography. Historically rendered with more than a touch of treacle, Robinson counters convention with his taste for atonality and an assortment of forms and unexpected transitions. The nostalgic "September in the Rain" abandons romantic melody for an unpredictable treatment of rhythm and meter.

Tracks and Personnel

Not Like Before

Walk-Up; 42nd Street; Sunny; Just Friends; I Got Rhythm.

Michael Robinson: piano.

Somebody Whisper

Blue Moon; Nice 'N' Easy; I Fall In Love Too Easily.

Michael Robinson: piano.

Wonderful Schemes

Days of Wine and Roses; Saturday Night Is the Loneliest Night of the Week; The Touch of Your Lips, Out of Nowhere.

Michael Robinson: piano.

For A Whirl

My Funny Valentine; All I Need Is the Girl; Too Young To Go Steady; Indian Summer.

Michael Robinson: piano.

The City Sleeps

The Boulevard of Broken Dreams; It Never Entered My Mind; Skylark; The Very Thought of You.

Michael Robinson: piano.

Somebody Whisper

Blue Moon; Nice 'N' Easy; I Fall In Love Too Easily.

Michael Robinson: piano.

Somebody Whisper

Blue Moon; Nice 'N' Easy; I Fall In Love Too Easily.

Michael Robinson: piano.

Bounce the Moon

September In the Rain; You Make Me Feel So Young; It Happened In Monterey; I'm Getting Sentimental Over You; I Should Care.

Michael Robinson: piano.

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