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Jason Robinson: The Two Faces of Janus

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Tenor saxophonist Jason Robinson marries intellect to sweat, brains to bawdiness, narrative to sidetrack, straight line to detour, familiarity to surprise-the dualities peppering this long, exciting disk go on.

The tunes shift meter, texture, and voice. Some feature Robinson solo; some pit him against peers/collaborators/alto saxophonists Rudresh Mahanthappa and Marty Ehrlich (who also plays squonky bass clarinet) for more complex forays. Largely based in Greek and Roman mythology, with nods to Mexican lore, the nine tracks here roil, burn, involve. This is an album that continues to reveal. Even “The Twelfth Labor,” one of Robinson’s sweeter efforts, twists and turns, staying grounded along the way.

Robinson is a middleman between the so-called cool of the West Coast jazz scene he came up in and the allegedly hotter East Coast style. How he bridges these-in fact, blows their distinctions to smithereens- works fine on the title track, which starts sardonically, devolves into a shouting match among the three saxmen (with witty punctuation by guitarist Liberty Ellman) that creates a clearing for a remarkable, breakneck Mahanthappa solo-and nobody gets in each other’s way. Check out how rhythmically and knottily the track works itself to conclusion. For atmospherics, try the carefully sinister Ellman showcase “Tides of Consciousness Fading” (Ehrlich’s bass clarinet sounds like a giant tiptoeing).

Parsing each track would spawn an article far longer than a magazine can bear. To appreciate its ambition, daring and execution, listen to Robinson’s ambitious, boundary-busting album. Then listen again. Modern, oracular, and communal, it stretches the limits of improvisation.

Originally Published