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Michael Robinson's Piano Improvisation Series

Hrayr Attarian By

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Keyboardist and composer Michael Robinson is well known for performing his genre-defying electronic works on his invention, the Meruvina. He is also an accomplished pianist who has released several solo improvisations, including three in 2021. A mix of originals and radically reimagined standards, each consists of three or four long tracks that fully reflect Robinson's individuality and talent.

Micheal Robinson
Star Girl
Azure Miles
2021

The captivating Star Girl opens with a unique reading of Bart Howard's "Fly Me To The Moon." As Robinson's right hand states the main theme and gradually takes it apart into its core elements, the left provides angular rhythmic support. The melody unravels into a meditative musing anchored by an earthy cadence. Bluesy hues and stride motifs wax and wane from the performance as sharp-edged sonic fragments contrast with dense, resonant chords. After a thorough and intriguing retelling of the tune, Robinson deftly and elgantly brings it to a delightfully unexpected conclusion.

On his melancholic "Last Flowers," Robinson makes the keys resonate as he percusses an otherworldly ballad from the instrument. Reverberating tones and silent pauses create an expectant ambiance. The piece smolders with a forlorn angst and brims with contemplation. The flirtation with dissonance and stream-of-consciousness spontaneity are rooted firmly in jazz while the harmonic structure stems from the western classical tradition.

An intense, almost mystical interpretation of Leonard Bernstein's "Maria" from West Side Story (Columbia, 1961) closes the album. Robinson infuses this cinematic version with an eastern lyricism as he caresses chiming notes out of the piano. Balancing his right hand's tender and spiritual extemporization are booming, symphonic refrains from the left. An absorbing tension ensues, making this track the highlight of an overall superb album.

Michael Robinson
Orion's Hour
Azure Miles
2021

In contrast, Orion's Hour starts with a completely deconstructed "There Will Never Be Another You," Harry Warren's famous tune. Among block chords that reverberate with tension and sharp-edged melodic shards, the piece gradually comes together in unhurried introspection. Shimmering tones coalesce into blues-tinged phrases as Robinson improvises with elegant and subtle virtuosity. The tempo swells and then slows down for a more pensive interpretation of the melody as Robinson rebuilds the standard in his own singular style.

Brooks Bowman's "East of the Sun (and West of the Moon)" gets a very dramatic reading. Lyrical and pensive, Robinson meanders without losing sight of the original motifs. Moving in circular phrases, the hypnotic extemporization literally changes hands as Robinson goes from right to left. The tune concludes on an aptly wistful note given the tragic fate of its composer (killed in a car crash just before turning 24).

Robinson's "Silk Dyed" is made up of crisp and muscular lines that take on taut and angular shapes. The resulting spontaneous piece is crystalline and delightfully atonal at times. The themes explored are primarily American with rock-influenced rhythms and agile pianism reminiscent of the Harlem masters of the 1930s. The intelligent refrains that form the core of this ad lib melody simmer with passion and brim with warmth. The tune comes full circle as it closes with understated exuberance.

Michael Robinson
Turning Rain
Azure Miles
2021

Turning Rain consists entirely of covers. Opening with hesitant notes echoing in silent pauses, Robinson hauntingly plays the main theme of Chet Forrest's "It's A Blue World." Getting down to its core melodic elements, Robinson embellishes them with subtle elegance and grace. The tender improvisation sounds at times like a lullaby and at others a serenade. A bittersweet mix of joy and melancholy marks this nocturnesque take on the well-known standard.

Robinson's rendition of Victor Schertzinger's "Tangerine" is more ebullient while remaining similarly understated and contemplative. The cascading chords and resonant refrains swell and abate with some regularity, yet Robinson's performance is intriguing and brilliantly unpredictable. Robinson is again able to push his improvisation quite far without losing sight of the source material.

Richard Rodgers' oft-interpreted "The Lady is a Tramp" gets a refreshingly novel reading by Robinson. The extemporaneous phrases progress logically out of the piece's main motifs yet are quite distinct. Robinson deftly melds his own musical ideas with that of the composer's for a seamless and dynamic fusion. With agility and grace, he brings the tune back to its original theme for a satisfying conclusion.

These acoustic recordings showcase another facet of Robinson's musicianship. They are as exciting and sui generis as anything Robinson has produced. They're also a testament to his consummate artistry no matter what "tool" he uses, computer or piano.

Tracks and Personnel

Star Girl

Tracks: Fly Me To The Moon; My Shining Hour; Last Flowers; Maria.

Personnel: Micheal Robinson: piano.

Orion's Hour

Tracks: There Will Never Be Another You; East of the Sun and West of the Moon; Silk Dyed.

Personnel: Micheal Robinson: piano.

Turning Rain

Tracks: It's A Blue World; Tangerine; Lady is a Tramp.

Personnel: Micheal Robinson: piano.

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