HERB ROBERTSON

Transparency
Winter & Winter JMT Edition 919 002-2

Often when fans look at the sessions Miles Davis recorded in the late 1950s, they wonder how he was able to gather so many future stars into one band. The same sort of question about another brassman — Herb Robertson — may arise examining TRANSPARENCY, a reissue from 1985.

Besides the presence of one future jazz superstar — guitarist Bill Frisell — think John Coltrane with Davis — two other downtown stalwarts are represented: drummer Joey Baron and saxophonist Tim Berne — think Philly Joe Jones and Cannonball Adderley. This quintet is rounded out by dependable Lindsey Horner on bass — think Paul Chambers — who made a stir with Myra Melford's trio in the mid-1990s and who now lives in Pittsburgh.

Unlike Davis in his quintet, cornetist, flugelhornist and trumpeter Robertson may be the least known combo member here. Considering he wrote, arranged and plays exceptionally on all the music you wonder why this is so. The reason may be that for a cowed jazz public, in thrall to the first stirrings of the so-called Young Lions's neo-orthodoxy in the mid-1980s, what Robertson offered on this disc was a little too diffuse.

Consider that during its course the band switches gracefully from a straightahead, near cool school approach to a rock-influenced rave up powered by death metal drumming and influenced by electric era Miles, to a nearly 18 minute suite stretched over two tracks that reference early 20th century atonality.

Biggest surprise here is Frisell, who in recent years has so dissolved into poppy, country-influenced roots music that his playing is starting to resemble that of a complacent Chet Atkins. Sixteen years ago, though, he seemed to have fire in his fingers. While his near-trademarked hovering echo is there as on "Floatasia", it doesn't stop him from comping reverb-like organ chords in the background or appending shimmering electronics on "Enigmatic Suite".

With drummer Baron playing brother Alex to Frisell's Eddie Van Halen, and relentlessly flailing away, the middle section of "Flocculus" finds the guitarist firing off feedback flares while the trumpeter produces washes of off key, electronic trumpeting à la BITCHES BREW. Surrounding this, the blend of Berne's alto and Robertson's muted trumpet and a steady pulse from Horner that make up the theme, remind the listener of nothing so much as 1950s Shorty Rogers and Bud Shank discs with Leroy Vinnegar.

More ambitious, "Enigmatic Suite" mixes a vocalized heraldic trumpet, otherworldly electronics, some wah-wah (!) guitar, military march-style snare drumming and a conga line of percussion tools to the theme. Here suggesting an admixture of Eric Dolphy runs and Art Pepper-like tone, Berne circles around Robertson's exploration of his highest register while Baron happily smashes away. Reminiscent of RITE OF SPRING eroticism, the musical colors explode as bass strums and electronically altered muted trumpet lines lead the composition to its end.

Since this session, Robertson has spent much time in Europe, recorded for many small labels and played with various combinations of players, most notably as one of the two Americans in British bassist Barry Guy's New Orchestra. But it seems that his ongoing eclecticism means that the title of his Latinish "They don't know about me yet" recorded here is still as true as it was in 1985.

Maybe this newly remastered reissue will do something to redress that injustice.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Prolog 2. Floatasia 3. Flocculus 4. Transparency 5. They don't know about me yet 6. Enigmatic Suite: Part 1 - Synergy Part 2- Overcast 7. Part 3- A Little Ditty 8. Epilog

Personnel: Herb Robertson (trumpet, cornet, flugelhorn); Tim Berne (alto saxophone); Bill Frisell (guitar); Lindsey Horner (bass); Joey Baron (drums, percussion)