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Jason Robinson: The Two Faces of Janus

Troy Collins By
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Jason Robinson: The Two Faces of Janus Currently serving as Assistant Professor of Music at Amherst College in Massachusetts, multi-reedist Jason Robinson originally obtained his Ph.D. in music from the University of California. A promising new arrival to the East Coast scene, Robinson's academic background imbues his episodic writing with an organically cohesive sensibility, while his years spent co-leading the longstanding bicoastal ensembles Cosmologic and the Cross Border Trio lend his focused improvisations a warm, economical lyricism.

The Two Faces of Janus, Robinson's Cuneiform Records debut as a leader, is an exceptional example of modern jazz that looks to the past and future for inspiration—lending credence to its symbolic title. Robinson calls upon the singular talents of some of New York's finest musicians to interpret his engaging compositions, employing a rotating roster of personnel that ranges from duo to sextet, including saxophonists Marty Ehrlich and Rudresh Mahanthappa, guitarist Liberty Ellman, bassist Drew Gress and drummer George Schuller—all renowned bandleaders in their own right.

Robinson seamlessly blends historical and stylistic precedents into a forward-thinking aesthetic built upon the unorthodox structural foundations of linear narrative development, polyphonic counterpoint and modulating rhythm cells. Such confluence can be heard in "Return to Pacasmayo," the chimerical hybrid of angular funk, swaggering blues and ebullient post-bop that opens the album. The sinuous be-bop-influenced lines of "Persephone's Scream" and the rich Duke Ellingtonian voicings of "Tides of Consciousness Fading" invoke timeless jazz traditions, while Ellman's heavily amplified fretwork on the opener and the variable time signatures of "The Elders" push the proceedings headlong into the future.

Taking full advantage of the three-horn frontline, Robinson peppers the stirring title track with an intricate latticework of serpentine lines, framing a turbulent alto excursion from Mahanthappa with coiling sheets of sound. The cinematic "Tides of Consciousness Fading" follows a similar, albeit more introverted approach, as Ellman's reverb-laden guitar and echoing horns provide understated support for Ehrlich's mournful, show-stopping bass clarinet lament.

Balancing the session's heavily arranged set-pieces with a handful of small scale works, Robinson engages in a pair of intimate contrapuntal duets with Ehrlich that essay subtle nuances in timbre and technique ("Huaca de la Luna" and "Huaca del Sol"). The brief but swinging "Paper Tiger" alludes to a revered tradition, spotlighting Robinson's muscular tenor tone and pneumatic phrasing in a stripped-down trio setting.

Proving his mettle as a magnanimous leader, the vivacious "Cerberus Reigning" and the ambitious finale "The Twelfth Labor," focus on the core quartet, casting Robinson's probing ruminations and Ellman's nimble cadences against Gress and Schuller's dramatic rhythm changes and quicksilver tempo shifts—bringing to a close one of the year's most compelling modern jazz recordings.


Track Listing: Return to Pacasmayo; The Two Faces of Janus; The Elders; Huaca de la Luna; Tides of Consciousness Fading; Cerberus Reigning; Persephone's Scream; Paper Tiger; Huaca del Sol; The Twelfth Labor.

Personnel: Jason Robinson: tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone, alto flute; Marty Ehrlich: alto saxophone and bass clarinet (1, 2, 4, 5, 9); Rudresh Mahanthappa: alto saxophone (2, 5, 7); Liberty Ellman: guitar (1-3, 5-7, 10); Drew Gress: bass (1-3, 5-8, 10); George Schuller: drums (1-3, 5-8, 10).

Year Released: 2010 | Record Label: Cuneiform Records | Style: Modern Jazz


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