After two decades on the jazz scene, Scott Robinson's gee-whiz factor is well established. By now everyone knows that he plays an astonishing array of reed and brass instruments. The evidence of these albums is that Robinson's stylistic flexibility and creativity are as impressive as his arsenal of axes.
Seeing a list of Armstrong titles might lead a listener to expect a traditional revivalist collection. That would be a mistake. Robinson takes advantage of the range and adaptability of Armstrong's compositions. Incisive on baritone saxophone, he converts the 76-year-old "Hear Me Talkin' to Ya" into a bebop romp with the headlong thrust of pieces like "Donna Lee" and "Little Willie Leaps." He plays euphonium with mellowness and relaxation in "Someday You'll Be Sorry"-as a samba. On tenor saxophone, he takes an Eddie Harris/Les McCann approach to "Gutbucket Blues." On "Cornet Chop Suey," the echo cornet allows Robinson to exchange muted and open-horn phrases with himself in an impressive mainstream solo whose quality Larry Ham matches on piano.
"Gully Low Blues" and "Wild Man Blues" are examples of the empathy between organist Mike LeDonne and Robinson, the chesty and soulful bass saxophonist in an after-hours mood. Perhaps inevitably, Robinson invokes Frank Trumbauer when he uses C-melody saxophone for "Lazy 'Sippi Steam Going Home" and "Red Cap," a vocal feature for pianist Mark Shane. Among the album's delights and surprises are "Swing That Music" with Robinson on tenor sax backed by an African percussion ensemble, and "Tears" as an elegiac free-jazz exploration. Bassist Pat O'Leary and drummer Klaus Suonsaari are on all tracks but the one recorded in Africa.
On Summertime (available from jazz4all.com), with Emil Viklick?y's trio, Robinson confines himself to two saxophones, cornet and wind machine. The repertoire is a mixture of standards, folk tunes and compositions by Robinson and Viklick?y. This is one case in which originals hold their own in quality and interest. One of the best contemporary pianists, Viklick?y's soloing and comping, his touch, voicings and intervals have a good deal in common with fleet, tasteful pianists like Tommy Flanagan, Jimmy Rowles and Bill Charlap. His individuality is deeply informed by the music of his native land, and particularly by that of Moravia. He and bassist Frantisek Uhlir and the Slovakian drummer Laco Tropp operate with Robinson on a remarkable level of musical connection.
The CD's highlights include a refractive treatment of "Summertime" with a splendid bowed solo by Uhlir, and Robinson brittle and probing on muted cornet; the expressiveness the quartet achieves through dynamics in Viklick?y's adaptation of the Moravian folk song "Pos Nasima Okny" ("Under Our Windows"); the rolling bop felicities of Robinson on soprano sax strolling with Uhlir in the bassist's tricky "Just for Us" ("Just Friends"); Robinson's inspired tenor on "Out of Nowhere" and "East of the Sun," with apparent references to Getz and Perkins"; his hints at Ben Webster on "In a Sentimental Mood"; the fluidity of his cornet work on Viklick?y's "Scott's Blues"; the passion and peaceful resolution of the tenor sax-piano duet on a second version of "Under Our Windows." Robinson alternates between tenor sax and the wind machine on his "Dark Composition," an abstraction that may portray a stormy night. I have found few recent CDs more satisfying than this one.