Alto sax player Rob Brown collaborated with pianist Craig Taborn and drummer Nasheet Waits in a live performance as part of the 2010 Sons d’Hiver Festival at Saint- Mandé, France. The recording of this performance has been issued under the title, Unknown Skies, which is also the name of one of the five pieces included on the album. Four were composed by Brown; the final “Temerity” is a trio improvisation.
This music is totally Rob Brown inspired, but also offers uniqueness in its contrasts. After a relatively calm snare, bass drum, cymbal combination, “Fine Line” builds with thematic synchronous piano/alto repetitions and vagaries until, without a distinct signal, the players start going in different directions, stretching their limits so that they wind up exploding. Fast and furious scattered clusters, dissonant and not, come from the piano; arpeggios and extensive pitch exploration flourish from the alto; and the drums create a background curtain of interlocking snare rolls, cymbal hisses and simple rhythmic clicking.
Deviating from the introductory improvisations, which eventually subside in a drum solo leading to the all-instruments close, the title track takes a turn to the melodic with a melancholic tinge. The following fast paced “Bounce Back” features Taborn performing a precise, lengthy piano-roll-esque solo which evolves with no break into “The Upshot.” The latter radiates a hard-driving sound in a dig-deep-bass drum, double-handed-piano-chords and low-alto-tones rush to a climax. As the piece pipes down, the blues manifest even more. Brown climbs through a complex fingering foray, supported by a drumming and piano ostinato that ushers the music home directly and seriously.
It makes sense that the group would want to end the record with a completely unbounded short playtime in which the instruments can have a nightcap and feel good about what they have done.