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Robert Sabin: Romero

Troy Collins By

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Romero, bassist Robert Sabin's rousing and contemplative tribute to director George Romero's famous zombie films, yields an unusual, effective combination of two seemingly disparate disciplines, jazz and horror movies.

Drawing inspiration from the classic trilogy of Night of the Living Dead (1968), Dawn of the Dead (1978) and Day of the Dead (1985), Sabin uses Romero's ripe cinematic metaphors assessing the frailty of the human condition as a thematic framework. Like Romero's films, his sophisticated compositions reveal a rich, complex palette that is alternately harrowing and harmonious, drawing a multitude of emotions—despite what may seem limited subject matter at first glance.

Sabin's audacious debut, Killdozer (Ranula Music, 2005), loosely based on Marvin Heemeyer's infamous armored bulldozer rampage in Colorado, featured saxophonist Jason Rigby, guitarist Mark Stanley and drummer Brian Griffin. Expanded to a quintet with trumpeter Russ Johnson, they bring these surprisingly hopeful tunes to life with spirited enthusiasm. A savvy hybrid of post-bop angularity, subtle blues inflections, gritty rock aesthetics and cinematic ambience, Sabin's writing is edgy yet accessible, exemplified by the infectiously raw funk of "ZWKDD."

Despite the gruesome subject matter, Sabin's pieces can be downright congenial. "Flowers In The Graveyard" blossoms into an elegant pastoral theme, accented by Stanley's shimmering chords before embarking into darker, introspective territory.

Sabin transforms Goblin's ominous theme to Dawn of the Dead, "L'Alba Dei Morti Viventi," expanding the sinister score into an epic meditation on darkness, alternating the portentous dirge-like theme with vigorous solo sections fueled by bracing tempo accelerations. Stanley, Johnson and Rigby run rings around the pulsating theme, tearing it inside out, until only a bloody mess of eviscerated innards remain.

"Introduction," "Is There Food?" and "Flowers In The Graveyard" utilize brief snippets of film dialogue as transitory elements. The soulful meditation, "God Left The Phone Off The Hook," is a nod to Romero's recent Land of the Dead (2005), using a choice rejoinder for the expansive tune's title, featuring an exquisite bass solo from Sabin.

Following one of the most absurdly fantastic lines of film dialogue (from Day of the Dead), "Monkey Farm" blasts forth on a surly roadhouse riff that invokes Miles Davis' "Right Off," from A Tribute to Jack Johnson (Columbia, 1970), in spirit and intensity. Stanley's searing, distorted guitar expels crystalline shards over Sabin and Griffin's punishing vamp before the horns unfurl gnarled tendrils from the circuitous theme.

"Helicopters" closes the album with an optimistic homage to Romero's favorite escape device, ascending a buoyant waltz-time melody with fluid group interaction and robust, euphonious lyricism.

Simultaneously transcending and evincing its subject matter, Romero is a brilliant document of contemporary jazz improvisation and exceptional group interaction bolstered by multicolored writing. Sabin's sophomore effort teems with thematic content that never overshadows the music at hand, accentuating it with poignant relevance.

Track Listing: Introduction (No More Room in Hell...); Zombi (L'Alba Dei Morti Viventi); ZWKDD4; God Left The Phone Off The Hook; Dog Shot; Is there food?; Monkey Farm; Flowers in the Graveyard; Helicopters.

Personnel: Robert Sabin: bass; Jason Rigby: saxophones; Mark Stanley: guitar; Brian Griffin: drums; Russ Johnson: trumpet.

Title: Romero | Year Released: 2007 | Record Label: Ranula Music

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