Herb Robertson

Music for Long Attention Spans

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If only there were as many jazz musicians as talented and visionary as Herb Robertson. Dave Douglas might get more ink (and he's a fine musician, to be sure), but Robertson is far and away the most original jazz trumpeter playing in the early 21st century. Add Robertson's considerable skills as a composer, and you have an enormously compelling artist. Robertson's trumpet technique combines elements commonly associated with other instruments, most apparently the trombone. Listening to him and trombonist Steve Swell back-to-back on this album illustrates the point. Swell is the quintessential modern trombonist, exploiting his instrument's propensity for timbral contrast and microtonal fluctuations. Robertson's right there with him; his fastest lines are so liquid, so expressive on the most minute level, it's as if they're produced by the movement of a slide rather than the depressing of valves. Robertson transcends the physical tendencies of his instrument to great creative ends. The other players on the album are excellent, as well. Swell is his typically garrulous self; fellow trombonist Bob Hovey is a bit less rambunctious, but fine, nevertheless. The rhythm section holds up their end nicely, as well. Perhaps what best characterizes the album is the attention paid to ordering its components. Robertson, in particular, contributes some nice, intelligently conceived structures on which to blow. Small group jazz gets a bad rap for being built around the head-solo-head format, but -- in the hands of sensitive improvisers -- the tiniest of melodic snippets can form the basis of a marvelously coherent piece of music. The tunes here are occasionally a bit more than that, but in general Robertson's tunes serve as a loose jumping-off point for the improvisations. The results are uniformly good. Here's to spreading some of that jazz critic ink around. Smear a bit on Herb Robertson; it suits him.

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