Monday, February 7, 2011

Jason Robinson and "The Two Faces of Janus"

Jason Robinson has been keeping excellent company of late. And he has been showing at least three sides of his impressively wide-ranging musical personality. He recently made a very presuasively coherent duet album with Anthony Davis (see for a review of that), he has made a very interesting solo album with electronics (see the above-mentioned blog tomorrow) and he has made a larger ensemble, harder-driving contemporary jazz album with some electricity and rock-fire momentum.

It's the latter of the three records that is up for discussion today, The Two Faces of Janus (Cuneiform Rune 311). First off, the lineup. It is a well-chosen, very lucidly fluent ensemble indeed. There's Jason on tenor, soprano and flute; Marty Ehrlich on alto and bass clarinet; Rudresh Mahanthappa on alto; Liberty Ellman on electric guitar; Drew Gress on the contrabass; and George Schuller on drums. This is a band with a definite identity. The rhythm team of Gress and Schuller can do anything and they do it well, whether it touches on the realm of swing, elaborated rock inflected time or freetime. They provide the spark when needed, and do so in very sophisticated ways. Liberty Ellman is a guitarist that can do ruminative, reflective chord and line statements or charge heatedly into the fray with electric-edged chromatic flow-torrents. The horn lineup is perhaps the most impressive of all: three distinct masters of saxaphony, Rudresh the chromatic firebrand, Marty the deft abstractionist, and Mr. Robinson, who holds his own in such illustrious company as a very limber post-Trane exponent that manages to stay clear of some of the phrases and certain uses of multiphonics some players tend to overuse.

This is a full-length CD with ten very interesting Robinson compositional vehicles, from the ultrmodern balladic, to the open-ended motifs and the hard-edge chromatic contrapuntal lines that form a catalyst for burning ensemble improvisations. Some of the collective horn improvisations are stunning. All of it gives notice to anyone within earshot that these players have plenty to express and do so with a convincing directness and, when called for, a soaring turbulence of note-creating.

Jason Robinson is a force to be reckoned with on the contemporary jazz scene, that is clear. The Two Faces of Janus is excellent modern jazz on all fronts, compositionally, improvisationally, and in terms of group dynamics. Take note: Jason Robinson is somebody to listen to closely in the coming decade.

Start with this album. I believe you'll agree once you've given it a close listen.

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