Sitting on this side of the Atlantic Ocean, I won’t begin to expound on the politics of British jazz. All but ignored by Ken Burns’ Jazz series, you have to wonder if they have the equivalent of our Stanley Crouch and Wynton Marsalis show? Nonetheless, let us take this disc by the Joe Robinson Quartet free from US trends and fashion.
This six-track, forty-minute disc is a refreshing slice of post Dexter Gordon music making. Saxophonist Joe Robinson (b. 1963) has played everything from rock to Cuban to Thelonious Monk tributes. His breathy tone conjures both Dexter, Stan Getz and curiously, the moody 1970’s feel of John Klemmer.
The disc opens and closes with covers of Kenny Barron and Wayne Shorter. In between are four Robinson originals. The way they effortlessly swing Barron’s “Voyage” sets up the remainder of the record for success. This quartet features veteran drummer Spike Wells, the one-time house drummer for Ronnie Scott’s club, as a powerful rhythmic engine throughout. Together with bassist Simon Thorpe (Stacy Kent) the time never lags here, even on the ballads.
Robinson plays with an animation straight out of Joe Henderson’s bag, with the kind of amicable runs of civilized bebop. While the young lions of NY are beating us over the head with hard-bop changes or Balkan/Indian time signitures, this quartet prefers a gentler jazz. One found in smoke-filled after hours penthouses. Pianist John Doanldson favors Kenny Barron’s touch applying accents and replies thoughout.
The disc closes with the rather slow-danced “Penelope” from Wayne Shorters’s Et Cetera. The almost forgotten gem is convincingly considered and the finest performance of the session. The quartet patiently applies the syrup of Shorter’s vision without saccharine.
The Joe Robinson Quartet is a valuable reminder of jazz music’s beautiful side.
Track Listing: Voyage; Something New; In Time; While I’m Waiting; The Hare; Penelope.
Joe Robinson – Tenor Saxophone; John Donaldson - Piano; Simon Thorpe – Bass; Spike Wells – Drums.
I was first exposed to jazz while working overseas in Africa as a Peace Corps Volunteer. I would listen to the Voice of America on the radio and they had a nightly jazz program on at 10:00pm. I learned a lot about jazz listening to this program. I also had a friend who listened to real jazz by artists like Charles Mingus, Eric Dolphy and Archie Shepp. On my way home from Africa I landed in New York and had the opportunity to see the George Adams/Don Pullen quartet at the Village Vanguard as well as Kenny Barron and Ron Carter at another club, and was in heaven.