Perry Robinson Trio: From A to Z

Even by clarinet standards, Perry Robinson’s From A to Z is one of the airiest of albums, a set defined by the leader’s unerringly light touch and surpassing sense of spatiality within the confines of his excellent longstanding trio with bassist Ed Schuller and drummer Ernst Bier. There’s an organic, Zen-like quality to the music, whether it takes the form of the nimble, Ornette-ish melody of “Sooner Than Before”; the playful, refracted klezmer of “Funky Giora”; or the paradoxically mournful and hopeful tones of the title track.

A cult hero who has flown under the radar of popular recognition for five decades, Robinson is valued by critics and aficionados as a supreme stylist, and is recognized as an innovator who helped introduce modern jazz to his instrument; he effectively paved the way for edgy reedists like Don Byron and Ben Goldberg. As revealed by a spooky rendition of “Joe Hill,” a labor anthem written by his film composer father Earl Robinson, his playing is also informed by modern folk. (Robinson once played with Pete Seeger and Allen Ginsberg.)

Robinson’s performance on From A to Z is more contained than his fabulous turn a decade ago on the William Parker Clarinet Trio’s Bob’s Pink Cadillac. But both albums are lifted by his deep internal gaze and ability to make each note count. Schuller’s self-accompanying vocalizations here are not for everyone’s taste, but the album overcomes them with its ingenuity and radiant warmth.