June 13, 2013
Mark Solberg Trio Feat. Herb Robertson & Evan Parker
Ilk 199 CD
Herb Robertson/Dave Kaczorowski/Adrian Valosin
NotTwo MW 867-2
By Ken Waxman
New Jersey-born trumpeter Herb Robertson may be a prophet without honor in his own country; he’s more appreciated in Europe than the US. Overseas he works high-profile gigs as a member of Barry Guy’s New Orchestra (BGNO) and with other bands; in the US it’s usually small groups and small clubs. With a reverberating, powerful attack that can harmonize sympathetically with others’ timbres, it’s no surprise Robertson is busy in Europe. Both CDs here are on European imprints.
More ambitious is The Trees, consisting of 10 instant compositions featuring the trumpeter plus British saxophonist Evan Parker with Danish guitarist Mark Solberg’s trio, completed by Norwegian bassist Mats Eilertsen and Danish drummer Peter Bruun. Experimenter with many ensembles, the guitarist’s affiliation with Robertson goes back to 2008. Meanwhile the trumpeter and Parker are both BGNO members. Consequently Parker’s interaction with the Scandinavians is the unknown factor here; unsurprisingly there’s little fissure. “Skyrækker No. 1”, for instance, shows how easily Solberg and Parker bond. As the guitarist pieces together strokes and slides with intuitive note placement, Parker slurs until erupting into a flurry of multiphonics.
At first Robertson appears uncharacteristically reticent, limiting his contributions to brass overlays and muted grace notes parallel to the saxophonist’s output on “The Whip” and “Dogwood”. The former becomes palatable however when Solberg puts aside folksy strums for tough plucks and is countered by Parker’s inimitable circular breathing. The latter tune depends on shrill buzzes and thumps from Eilertsen that shape the backing properly for flat-picking from the guitarist and wiggling slap-tonguing from the saxman. By the CD’s mid-point everyone relaxes and Robertson asserts himself. On “Chestnut and the Woods”, he counters electronic pulsations with a staccato bugle-like tattoo, then spins out an essay in brassy impudence that combines high-pitched triplets, plunger slurs and rubato brays. Solberg’s stretched delay and distorted tones respond in kind.
Throughout Eilertsen reveals swelling arco pulses and muscular slaps, while Bruun’s clatters and clanks take on expressive steel-drum-like resonations as they spur on the front line. Not that it’s necessary. By the final “Closure” Robertson has loosens up enough to intersect whirring trumpet blusters and growls with Parker’s intentionally fractured reed lines as the strings comp percussively. Eventually this performance wraps up with a series of beautifully modulated textures from the trumpeter, slightly subverted by saxophone split tones.
If Robertson appears diffident on The Trees, there’s no sign of that on Party Enders. The three tracks are extended blowing vehicles with the 41-minute “Elastic Dreams” almost as lengthy as the entire other disc. These aren`t formless jams however. First-class journeyman, bassist Dave Kaczorowski and drummer Adrian Valosin make up a top rhythm team in the Philadelphia-Camden area. Plus the space gives Robertson license to bring out his collection of mutes and little instruments plus flugelhorn and cornet, so that subsequent tracks expose sounds that range from plastic toy-like peeps to mellow buzzing. The drummer contributes sandpaper-like sweeps and pops and the bassist sprawling sul tasto lines and cross pumps.
This versatility is showcased on “Elastic Dreams”, which works its way from hushed, near-aleatory intonation comprising plucks, scratches and vibrations, to a finale where Robertson gruffly mumbles near-nonsensical lyrics. Valosin’s backbeat encompasses gong-like resonations and intricate African-inflected pulses and the bassist supplies a walking ostinato. Moving from an open horn showcase, Robertson then duets with himself as distant whistling chirps and tart cornet lines intersect. At mid-point stentorian bass thumps and rim shots solidify into a neo-bop groove. Finally the piece climaxes as the trumpeter erupts into a series of cleanly articulated fortissimo notes.
These discs should appeal to most improvised music fans. Still, appreciation of steadfast Kaczorowski’s and Valosin’s talents on Party Enders makes one wonder how many other musicians lack proper recognition overseas, let alone at home.
Tracks: Trees: The Whip; Hophornbeam; Dogwood; Skyrækker No. 1; Oak and the Alder; Skyrækker No. 2; Chestnut and the Woods; Apples, Apples; Dark Boat; Closure
Personnel: Trees: Herb Robertson: trumpets, voice, kalimba, pipe organ; Evan Parker: tenor and soprano saxophones; kalimba; gong; Mark Solborg: electric, acoustic guitars; Mats Eilertsen: bass; Peter Bruun: drums
Tracks: Party: Elastic Dreams; Party Ender; Outer Boroughs
Personnel: Party: Herb Robertson: trumpet, cornet, flugelhorn, English hunting horn, penny whistles, Romanian reed flute, mutes, electronic mutes, bells, castanets, vocal; Dave Kaczorowski: bass; Adrian Valosin: drums, bells, castanets
—For The New York City Jazz Record June 2013