Jason Robinson

Tandem

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Tandem is West Coast saxophonist Jason Robinson's second album billed to his name. But while his 1998 opus presented hard bop compositions, this one proposes incursions into experimental realms: free improvisation, live electronics, and avant-garde jazz composition. The 14 pieces are duets with musicians young and old, all based in San Diego in 2000-2001. The format of the duo is explored thoroughly in its acoustic and electronic trenches, with one track ("Song for Tomorrow") even featuring an improvised recombination by Stephanie Johnson of a previously recorded duet between the saxophonist and bassist Peter Kowald. Three pieces are more or less written down. Of these, the 20-minute "C.T." with pianist Anthony Davis is the most composed. It features a series of interlocking themes and moods in a soft free jazz vein. It is not the most satisfying moment this album has to offer. Look instead in the direction of the two wildly creative improvs with trombonist George Lewis, two more with Hans Fjellestad on analog synthesizers (including "Black Market Higgle," where Robinson plays flute), and another two with Marcelo Radulovich providing electronic textures and field recordings. Robinson's playing is very strong throughout, although the nature of this album tends to bury his voice under those of the rotating cast. Tandem reflects his wide array of interests (minus reggae and funk, another story), as a result giving the impression that he is still searching for his sound. The avenues he explores hold promises, but the music still feels like a work in progress.

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