Jason Robinson/Anthony Davis

Cerulean Landscape
Clean Feed CF 198 CD

By Ken Waxman

Back to the future for pianist Anthony Davis, this CD is a reminder that the improvising skill he first exhibited in the 1970s still lurks within the composer now best-known for his chamber, choral and symphonic work as well as operas such as X and Amistad. Co-leader of the band Cosmologic, multi-reedist Jason Robinson renews the on-again-off-again relationship he has had with Davis since 1998, for a series of duo numbers, most composed by either man.

Nevertheless, “Someday I'll Know” written by Jason Shurbury, is the tune closest to a standard, and both so-called avant-gardists handle it exquisitely. Robinson’s moderato flutter tonguing quivers comfortably alongside low-frequency keyboard tinkles from Davis. Delicately emphasizing the tune’s contours as it unspools, the pianist turns to comping when the saxophonist reenters with a conclusive, andante cadenza.

Not that the experimental fire has been smothered. Harsher interface on “Of Blues and Dreams” finds the pianist nearly upsetting the balanced tension of the piece when his metronomic strums and soundboard resonations turn to harder syncopation to contrast with reed-biting, showy tongue slapping and screechy triple-tonguing from the saxophonist. Finally underlying chords are exposed from both sides for melodic intertwining.

Earlier modal jazz era tremolos from Davis and Robinson proving that his flute attack can be as rough and staccato as on it is on saxophone(s), produces the duo’s ultimate definition on the title track. Davis’ deliberately paced, pseudo-classical lines turn to key-ringing in order to match the smears and finger vibrations from Robinson’s tenor saxophone. Initially showcased unaccompanied, the reedist’s glide to legato classicism from overblowing variations on distinct sets of reed tones, ingeniously connects with the piano work.

This is a notable disc from a veteran verifying his improv chops and a young veteran proving his versatility.

Tracks: Shimmer; Someday I'll Know; Vicissitudes (for Mell); Translucence; Of Blues and Dreams; Andrew; Cerulean Seas And Viridian Skies.

Personnel: Jason Robinson: soprano, alto and tenor saxophone, alto flute; Anthony Davis: piano.

—For New York City Jazz Record August 2011