Robertson_span3
April 2008

Herb Robertson NY Downtown Allstars
Real Aberration
Clean Feed

Hard to figure out what to make of trumpeter Herb Robertson’s free-jazz quintet’s new set. Some parts exhilarate. Some parts plod. Some lift the soul. Some of it is based firmly in composition, and some of it is way off the charts.

Real Aberration puts a critic in a difficult spot. Praise it and you’re blindly accepting of whatever these self-indulgent free improvisers throw at you. Put it down and you just don’t get it. Take the middle of the road and you’re useless.

The truth is somewhere else and also in all these places. The truth is that an album like Real Aberration gives you, the listener, what you bring to it. This sort of music springs viscerally from the release of emotion, from the organic reactions that one musician has when performing, vulnerably, in the presence of others. And in this case, these five musicians—Robertson, alto saxophonist Tim Berne, pianist Sylvie Courvoisier, bassist Mark Dresser and drummer Tom Rainey—give themselves unconditionally to the music. What results, for the most part, is unstructured beauty, both on the six-part suite “Sick(s) Fragments” that makes up disc one and the 39-minute “Re-Elaboration” that constitutes disc two.

Describing the specific sounds made by the drums and the piano and the trumpet is way beside the point here. The individualized rewards of this music bared themselves to me one evening when a neighbor happened to come by while I was playing Real Aberration on my stereo. He made a little joke about it sounding like a bunch of thieves who stole some instruments that they didn’t know how to play. He brought nothing to this album, and he didn’t deserve to hear it. You might.

Originally published in April 2008
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