Jason Robinson / Janus Ensemble: Resonant Geographies (PFMLP115)

Jeff Kaiser

[playlist ids="1360"]

PLEASE NOTE: THIS PAGE IS FOR PURCHASING THE DOUBLE LP (VINYL) VERSION.
Please click here for the CD.

Resonant Geographies
Jason Robinson

Jason Robinson’s Janus Ensemble:
Jason Robinson—tenor and soprano saxophones, alto flute
JD Parran—alto and contra alto clarinets, bass flute
Oscar Noriega—Bb and bass clarinets, alto saxophone
Marty Ehrlich—bass clarinet, alto saxophone, flute
Michael Dessen—trombone
Bill Lowe—bass trombone, tuba
Marcus Rojas—tuba
Liberty Ellman—guitar
Drew Gress—bass
George Schuller—drums
Ches Smith—drums, glockenspiel

Recorded at Systems Two, Brooklyn, NY, January 5-6, 2016
Engineered and mixed by Mike Marciano
Produced by Jason Robinson
Recording session produced by Steph Robinson
Recording session assistant: Jamie Sandel
Mastered by Rich Breen, Dogmatic Studios, Burbank, CA
All images by David Gloman. Cover, West Worthington Falls, 2016, 17×21 inches, acrylic on paper (detail). Side A label, Bear Den Falls, 2016, 17×22 inches, acrylic on paper (detail). Side B label, Westfield River, 2016, 17×21 inches, acrylic on paper (detail). Side C label, Gold in Brook Falls, 2016, 11×14 inches, acrylic on paper (detail). Side D label, Gunn Brook Falls, 2015, 18×23 inches, acrylic on paper (detail).
Photography by Scott Friedlander, (c) 2016, used with permission
Graphic design by Ted Killian

Track Titles:

Side A:
Facing East (10:41)
Futures Unimagined (8:12)

Side B:
Confluence (6:55)
Dreaming (8:24)

Side C:
Facing West (6:31)
Circuitry Unbound (8:44)

Side D:
Outcropping (12:14)

All compositions by Jason Robinson (ASCAP)
All rights reserved ℗ and © 2018 Jason Robinson

https://youtu.be/-43JeWvAKRI

Arriving in Montreal in the middle of the Janus Ensemble tour, I watched as my fellow trombonist Bill Lowe wrangled his enormous tuba and bass trombone cases out of the van, through sub-zero winds and icy sidewalks, and into the tiny club where we’d soon perform. This would be a challenge for someone half Bill’s age, but he was unfazed, focused only on warming up all that metal in time for the soundcheck.

We’d been driving all day and I’d spent much of it listening to Bill’s inspiring stories. For a half century, he’s contributed to expanding the ways that African American music is understood, starting out working with celebrated musical innovators in 1960s London and 1970s New York City and continuing through an extensive career that encompasses music making, community engagement, festival organizing, and academic work. As Taylor Ho Bynum points out, despite all this, Bill has “existed somewhat under the radar, partly because he’s been equally committed to teaching and scholarship throughout his career, and partly because the top-down, star-focused version of jazz history rarely leaves room for the artists in the trenches who are the lifeblood of the music.”1

That night, this “lifeblood” was a large band crammed onto the stage without a spare inch, working through a wide-ranging set of Jason Robinson’s music. “Futures Unimagined,” a piece we played and also part of this album, is typical of Jason’s compositional range and sensibility. It begins with an introduction where the only indication in the score is “collective improvisation – start sparse,” giving the band time for a spacious, internal dialogue that differs wildly each time, but eventually coalesces into more intricate notations and then a blues-inflected song form. There, one lush, recurring melodic phrase is scored for trombone on top of clarinets, an allusion to a specific color and orchestration developed by Duke Ellington in his 1930 composition “Mood Indigo.” As if to heighten the connection, Bill’s brilliant trombone solo on this piece combines throat growling and a harmon mute in his own version of a technique pioneered by Ellington’s trombonist “Tricky” Sam Nanton. Eventually the piece ends with a flourish of improvisational dialogue among two drumset players, George Schuller and Ches Smith, cutting to a sparse snare drum gesture played eight times in perfect unison by both drummers, an elusive and only temporary closure before we continue to the next chapter of the suite.

Almost a century ago, Duke Ellington’s early ensemble music helped establish an important new practice of composing music not only for specific instruments, but also for individual improvisers, drawing on each musician’s personal sound for inspiration and raw material. It’s an approach that has since expanded in infinite directions, especially in African American-based improvised music, but always with a powerful dialectic at its core: It depends on and highlights individuality, and it’s also a deeply collective mode of creativity.

That spirit infuses Resonant Geographies, an extended suite Jason has composed for these eleven improvisers, most of whom have performed in his Janus Ensemble since 2008. Compositionally, the suite is a series of sonic reflections on specific locations that have been important to Jason, each movement a kind of tone poem moving through a range of textures and forms related to that memory. But the suite is just as much animated by musical geographies, both those of the improvisers in this band who bring different relationships to jazz traditions, and those of the composers past and present whose influences echo throughout the score, filtered through Jason’s own compositional sensibility.

Multi-reedist J.D. Parran is another individual who has inspired both Jason and me for many years and brings his unique history to this album. Reflecting on his experience growing up in inner city St. Louis during the 1960s, J.D. describes how he was fortunate to have excellent school music teachers that were part of the “talented tenth group of African American educators.” He comments that these teachers, many of whom had recently migrated from the south, were “very, very special in what they had to go through—in mostly traditionally black colleges and universities—to get their education, and the rigorous kind of training that they received.”2

Rigor: “The quality of being extremely thorough, exhaustive, or accurate.” I associate this quality with Parran himself, one of those rare people I’d describe as a master musician. He’s achieved astonishing technique on multiple reed instruments, including less common ones such as the bass saxophone and alto clarinet, and he’s worked as both an interpreter and an improviser across wide-ranging forms of contemporary music, from his early years with mentors in the Black Artist Group (BAG), an important St. Louis collective, through graduate-level formal training and decades of trans-disciplinary, creative collaborations based in New York City. As an improviser, he’s woven all of these diverse experiences into a “very, very special” sound all his own.

I first heard J.D. in the late 1990s, at a solo concert on which he played several reed instruments. I remember being especially stunned by his interpretation of “St. Louis Blues” on bass clarinet. Thinking back now on his sound, I’m reminded of these words:
“In the context of improvised musics that exhibit strong influences from African- American ways of music-making, musical sound—or rather, ‘one’s own sound’—becomes a carrier for history and cultural identity. As Yusef Lateef maintains, ‘The sound of the improvisation seems to tell us what kind of person is improvising. We feel that we can hear character or personality in the way the musician improvises.’”3 —George E. Lewis4

For this album, one place where Jason features J.D. is on “Dreaming,” the middle movement of the suite. Midway into the piece, J.D. interprets a melody that Jason composed to highlight the unique timbre of the alto clarinet, shifting between gradient inflection and incredible precision of pitch with a rich, fluid tone. He then improvises a solo that slowly blooms across multiple registers and propels the band through a kaleidescopic transformation, interacting especially with the dense, rhythmic composite coming from the two drummers. Here as in many other moments on this album, George and Ches are expert alchemists, constantly discovering new ways to mix their two distinct drumset sounds in a dialogue that grounds the band but is always shifting.

In the final section of “Dreaming,” the ensemble navigates a scored section of tempo shifts and dramatic gestures for low brass and reeds. These two effects together make for another historical citation, as specific as the Ellington one: here the reference is to the second movement of Charles Mingus’ album The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady, a landmark recording in the history of long-form suites composed for improvisers.

Hearing this Mingus trace isn’t necessary for enjoying the track’s explosive ending, but the point is that this model of composition always includes such imaginary dialogues, honoring one’s sources in ways that range from explicit to oblique. And the references aren’t always to the distant past—for example, the hocketed texture scored for two tubas and trombone over a churning rhythm section in “Facing West” points towards the work of contemporary composer Henry Threadgill, whose imaginative bands Jason has cited as a formative influence on the instrumentation of the Janus Ensemble. Here again, Jason’s choice of soloist adds to this connection, as this music launches into an otherworldly solo by virtuoso tubist Marcus Rojas, one of several musicians in this band who has played in Threadgill’s ensembles.

This interweaving of personal and collective histories is a reminder of something important about developing one’s “own sound”: you don’t do it alone. This kind of music requires extensive solitary practice and study, but our sounds as improvisers also evolve through infinite reactions and interactions with others, including the musicians we work with and others we know only through records, like the one you are holding now.

This is Jason’s third recording with the Janus Ensemble, which he has been leading in flexible configurations since 2008. All the musicians on this album have been part of the ensemble since then, except for two new additions on this record, the phenomenal reed player Oscar Noriega and myself on trombone. Though I’m new to the Janus ensemble, Jason and I have been close collaborators and friends for about 20 years, working in numerous bands and projects together. We first met when he moved to San Diego for the same reason I did: to study music with George Lewis and Anthony Davis in a graduate program at UC San Diego

Lewis and Davis radically expanded the questions we were asking about music and inspired us in endless ways. They modeled a creative practice that is rigorous in craft, wide open in creative possibility, and always with a thoughtful, complex and individual connection to the world. They encouraged us to develop our own communities and our own music, not just adopt theirs, but they also introduced us, figuratively and literally, to many other artists who would become important inspirations and mentors, including J.D. Parran and Marty Ehrlich, both on this record.

When I first met Jason, he had been playing on various scenes in northern California and had been mentored by the late Mel Graves, a bassist who ran a vibrant and highly original jazz program at Sonoma State University. Jason was immersed in music with typical intensity, having already released an album of his music on his own label while still in his early 20s. He was inquisitive, deep into the saxophone, creating music with darting, angular lines and exuberant grooves. His music had a driving quality, an optimistic, forward momentum, but always with a sense of openness to shifts in direction, whether subtle or extreme.

I still hear that same musical DNA in Jason’s sound, but deepened through two decades of work and expanded to a broader palette through collaborations like this one. This suite is carefully crafted to feature all of the improvisers in both solo and collective contexts while also covering a wide-ranging compositional terrain. Some sections delve deep into texture and sound, either through detailed score notations that exploit the band’s unusual instrumentation, or through improvisations set within imaginative backdrops. Other stretches of music revel in the rich rhythmic and harmonic language of jazz traditions, sometimes recalling the buoyant energies of early big band music and other times with a more abstract lens that evokes later “creative orchestra” explorations. What ties it all together and makes the work a long-form composition rather than just a sequence of varied parts is the dialogue among these different soundworlds, not just between movements but within them; none of the tracks end where they begin, and each travels unpredictably through a different blend of historical references, individual expressions and sonic explorations.

The band you hear on this record is diverse in generation as well as musical backgrounds, and along with those mentioned above, the lineup includes other equally renowned composer-improvisers. Multi-reedist Marty Ehrlich, like J.D. Parran, began his long history of contributions to this music working with musicians from BAG and the AACM in St. Louis during the late 1960s, and over the decades since has created a wide-ranging body of creative work as a composer and collaborator. The versatile bassist and composer Drew Gress has long been one of the most in-demand improvisers on the NYC scene, grounding bands led by an incredible range of contemporary innovators, and the same can be said of acclaimed guitarist and composer Liberty Ellman, another musician here connected to Henry Threadgill, in Liberty’s case through working closely with Threadgill over many years alongside his own projects.

This band encompasses a fascinating cross-section of jazz-inspired contemporary music scenes, broad and difficult to categorize, but one thread running through the Janus Ensemble and Jason’s music is the idea that this wide range of creative expression and method is central to jazz traditions, and always has been. Many people in the jazz industry still seem eager to reinforce old fault lines and put every new record in a particular box, with avant-garde flavors on one side and “traditional” ones on the other. But music like this embodies a more expansive stance, a recognition that a wide spectrum of expressive possibilities is always present to begin with, endlessly woven into new forms by individuals responding to changing contexts. Speaking in Arthur Taylor’s classic 1972 book of musician-to-musician interviews, the great drummer Philly Joe Jones harshly critiques “bag carriers” who superficially imitate the screams of the avant-garde, but he also cites artists like John Coltrane to distinguish experimentalists who are committed to a deep, integrative craft. In response to a question about “freedom music,” Jones deftly deconstructs conventional discursive boundaries by commenting that “everybody’s been playing free. Every time you play a solo you’re free to play what you want to play. That’s freedom right there.”5 I hope you can enjoy this new music by Jason Robinson and the Janus Ensemble in that spirit. Thanks for listening. — Michael Dessen

Works cited
1. Taylor Ho Bynum, “Guest Post: Taylor Ho Bynum on Bill Lowe,” in Destination: Out, Feb. 1, 2012, accessed June 20, 2017 <http://destination-out.com/?p=3384>.
2. Interview with J.D. Parran by Yusef Jones, accessed June 2017: <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DMYc63l6OMg>.
3. Yusef A. Lateef, “The Pleasures of Voice in Improvised Music,” in Roberta Thelwell, ed., Views on Black American Music: Selected Proceedings from the Fourteenth, Fifteenth, Sixteenth and Seventeenth Annual Black Musicians’ Conferences, University of Massachusetts at Amherst, No. 3 (1985–1988) pp. 43–46.
4. George E. Lewis, “Too Many Notes: Computers, Complexity and Culture in ‘Voyager,’” Leonardo Music Journal, Vol. 10 (2000), pp. 33-39.
5. Art Taylor. Notes and Tones : Musician-to-Musician Interviews. New York: Da Capo Press, 1993, pp. 47-48.
_______________________________________________________
Resonant Geographies is a meditation on place, memory, relationships, and community. Each movement of the suite is inspired by specific places, a canvas of various experiences and memories for me over a number of years. These are not the sounds of places in a narrow sense, but what is contained here might as well be considered a sounding of those places. A subtle but important distinction. A proportion, a relationship, a scent, a feeling. Like the shifting translucent blues and oranges of a rejuvenating and boundless sunset along the north coast of California, or the warm embraces or knowing glances of friends and loved ones, this project is a process. It continues to unfold. Great heartache, struggle, discovery, and rebirth accompanied/s its long stages. My heart smiles again. I hope that you, the listener, find yourself in the sounds contained here. And I hope we are all guided by compassion and empathy as we sound places, relationships, communities.

This album is dedicated to George Finney Thomason.

I’ve been drawn to the ocean for as long as I can remember. Some of my earliest memories are standing on giant rocks extending into the majestic Pacific some four hours north of San Francisco, while staring with amazement at the spray created by crashing waves, enchanted by the patterns of mussels on rocks, the endless volume of water, the mysterious and beckoning horizon. And the smell—salt, seaweed, richly moist, oxygenated air. I feel at home in this wondrous meeting of water, land, and air. I can still see my great grandfather standing on the bluffs, the rocks, the beaches, and hear his voice as he guides and encourages me to explore. What kind of place is the vast, unimaginably large expanse of the ocean? — Jason Robinson

Deepest thanks to my musical collaborators and friends heard on this recording, whose collaborative spirits and finely tuned personal sound approaches make immeasurable contributions to the music. Thanks also to numerous others who helped make this project possible: Mike Marciano, Rich Breen, Jeff Kaiser, Glenn Siegel, Priscilla Page, Matan Rubinstein, Paul Lichter, Eric Lewis, Jim Staley, Jamie Sandel, and my colleagues at Amherst College. And without the love and support of my closest friends and family, none of this would have been possible. Let’s put this on the turntable, Piccolo. It’s about time!

This recording was made possible by the H. Axel Schupf ’57 Fund for Intellectual Life at Amherst College.

pfMENTUM
PFMLP115
www.pfmentum.com

Jason Robinson / Janus Ensemble: Resonant Geographies (PFMCD115)

Jeff Kaiser

[playlist ids="1360"]

PLEASE NOTE: THIS PAGE IS FOR PURCHASING THE CD VERSION.
Click here for the double LP (vinyl)

Resonant Geographies
Jason Robinson

Jason Robinson’s Janus Ensemble:
Jason Robinson—tenor and soprano saxophones, alto flute
JD Parran—alto and contra alto clarinets, bass flute
Oscar Noriega—Bb and bass clarinets, alto saxophone
Marty Ehrlich—bass clarinet, alto saxophone, flute
Michael Dessen—trombone
Bill Lowe—bass trombone, tuba
Marcus Rojas—tuba
Liberty Ellman—guitar
Drew Gress—bass
George Schuller—drums
Ches Smith—drums, glockenspiel

Recorded at Systems Two, Brooklyn, NY, January 5-6, 2016
Engineered and mixed by Mike Marciano
Produced by Jason Robinson
Recording session produced by Steph Robinson
Recording session assistant: Jamie Sandel
Mastered by Rich Breen, Dogmatic Studios, Burbank, CA
All images by David Gloman. Cover, West Worthington Falls, 2016, 17×21 inches, acrylic on paper (detail). Side A label, Bear Den Falls, 2016, 17×22 inches, acrylic on paper (detail). Side B label, Westfield River, 2016, 17×21 inches, acrylic on paper (detail). Side C label, Gold in Brook Falls, 2016, 11×14 inches, acrylic on paper (detail). Side D label, Gunn Brook Falls, 2015, 18×23 inches, acrylic on paper (detail).
Photography by Scott Friedlander, (c) 2016, used with permission
Graphic design by Ted Killian

Track Titles:

Facing East (10:41)
Futures Unimagined (8:12)
Confluence (6:55)
Dreaming (8:24)
Facing West (6:31)
Circuitry Unbound (8:44)
Outcropping (12:14)

All compositions by Jason Robinson (ASCAP)
All rights reserved ℗ and © 2018 Jason Robinson

https://youtu.be/-43JeWvAKRI

Arriving in Montreal in the middle of the Janus Ensemble tour, I watched as my fellow trombonist Bill Lowe wrangled his enormous tuba and bass trombone cases out of the van, through sub-zero winds and icy sidewalks, and into the tiny club where we’d soon perform. This would be a challenge for someone half Bill’s age, but he was unfazed, focused only on warming up all that metal in time for the soundcheck.

We’d been driving all day and I’d spent much of it listening to Bill’s inspiring stories. For a half century, he’s contributed to expanding the ways that African American music is understood, starting out working with celebrated musical innovators in 1960s London and 1970s New York City and continuing through an extensive career that encompasses music making, community engagement, festival organizing, and academic work. As Taylor Ho Bynum points out, despite all this, Bill has “existed somewhat under the radar, partly because he’s been equally committed to teaching and scholarship throughout his career, and partly because the top-down, star-focused version of jazz history rarely leaves room for the artists in the trenches who are the lifeblood of the music.”1

That night, this “lifeblood” was a large band crammed onto the stage without a spare inch, working through a wide-ranging set of Jason Robinson’s music. “Futures Unimagined,” a piece we played and also part of this album, is typical of Jason’s compositional range and sensibility. It begins with an introduction where the only indication in the score is “collective improvisation – start sparse,” giving the band time for a spacious, internal dialogue that differs wildly each time, but eventually coalesces into more intricate notations and then a blues-inflected song form. There, one lush, recurring melodic phrase is scored for trombone on top of clarinets, an allusion to a specific color and orchestration developed by Duke Ellington in his 1930 composition “Mood Indigo.” As if to heighten the connection, Bill’s brilliant trombone solo on this piece combines throat growling and a harmon mute in his own version of a technique pioneered by Ellington’s trombonist “Tricky” Sam Nanton. Eventually the piece ends with a flourish of improvisational dialogue among two drumset players, George Schuller and Ches Smith, cutting to a sparse snare drum gesture played eight times in perfect unison by both drummers, an elusive and only temporary closure before we continue to the next chapter of the suite.

Almost a century ago, Duke Ellington’s early ensemble music helped establish an important new practice of composing music not only for specific instruments, but also for individual improvisers, drawing on each musician’s personal sound for inspiration and raw material. It’s an approach that has since expanded in infinite directions, especially in African American-based improvised music, but always with a powerful dialectic at its core: It depends on and highlights individuality, and it’s also a deeply collective mode of creativity.

That spirit infuses Resonant Geographies, an extended suite Jason has composed for these eleven improvisers, most of whom have performed in his Janus Ensemble since 2008. Compositionally, the suite is a series of sonic reflections on specific locations that have been important to Jason, each movement a kind of tone poem moving through a range of textures and forms related to that memory. But the suite is just as much animated by musical geographies, both those of the improvisers in this band who bring different relationships to jazz traditions, and those of the composers past and present whose influences echo throughout the score, filtered through Jason’s own compositional sensibility.

Multi-reedist J.D. Parran is another individual who has inspired both Jason and me for many years and brings his unique history to this album. Reflecting on his experience growing up in inner city St. Louis during the 1960s, J.D. describes how he was fortunate to have excellent school music teachers that were part of the “talented tenth group of African American educators.” He comments that these teachers, many of whom had recently migrated from the south, were “very, very special in what they had to go through—in mostly traditionally black colleges and universities—to get their education, and the rigorous kind of training that they received.”2

Rigor: “The quality of being extremely thorough, exhaustive, or accurate.” I associate this quality with Parran himself, one of those rare people I’d describe as a master musician. He’s achieved astonishing technique on multiple reed instruments, including less common ones such as the bass saxophone and alto clarinet, and he’s worked as both an interpreter and an improviser across wide-ranging forms of contemporary music, from his early years with mentors in the Black Artist Group (BAG), an important St. Louis collective, through graduate-level formal training and decades of trans-disciplinary, creative collaborations based in New York City. As an improviser, he’s woven all of these diverse experiences into a “very, very special” sound all his own.

I first heard J.D. in the late 1990s, at a solo concert on which he played several reed instruments. I remember being especially stunned by his interpretation of “St. Louis Blues” on bass clarinet. Thinking back now on his sound, I’m reminded of these words:
“In the context of improvised musics that exhibit strong influences from African- American ways of music-making, musical sound—or rather, ‘one’s own sound’—becomes a carrier for history and cultural identity. As Yusef Lateef maintains, ‘The sound of the improvisation seems to tell us what kind of person is improvising. We feel that we can hear character or personality in the way the musician improvises.’”3 —George E. Lewis4

For this album, one place where Jason features J.D. is on “Dreaming,” the middle movement of the suite. Midway into the piece, J.D. interprets a melody that Jason composed to highlight the unique timbre of the alto clarinet, shifting between gradient inflection and incredible precision of pitch with a rich, fluid tone. He then improvises a solo that slowly blooms across multiple registers and propels the band through a kaleidescopic transformation, interacting especially with the dense, rhythmic composite coming from the two drummers. Here as in many other moments on this album, George and Ches are expert alchemists, constantly discovering new ways to mix their two distinct drumset sounds in a dialogue that grounds the band but is always shifting.

In the final section of “Dreaming,” the ensemble navigates a scored section of tempo shifts and dramatic gestures for low brass and reeds. These two effects together make for another historical citation, as specific as the Ellington one: here the reference is to the second movement of Charles Mingus’ album The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady, a landmark recording in the history of long-form suites composed for improvisers.

Hearing this Mingus trace isn’t necessary for enjoying the track’s explosive ending, but the point is that this model of composition always includes such imaginary dialogues, honoring one’s sources in ways that range from explicit to oblique. And the references aren’t always to the distant past—for example, the hocketed texture scored for two tubas and trombone over a churning rhythm section in “Facing West” points towards the work of contemporary composer Henry Threadgill, whose imaginative bands Jason has cited as a formative influence on the instrumentation of the Janus Ensemble. Here again, Jason’s choice of soloist adds to this connection, as this music launches into an otherworldly solo by virtuoso tubist Marcus Rojas, one of several musicians in this band who has played in Threadgill’s ensembles.

This interweaving of personal and collective histories is a reminder of something important about developing one’s “own sound”: you don’t do it alone. This kind of music requires extensive solitary practice and study, but our sounds as improvisers also evolve through infinite reactions and interactions with others, including the musicians we work with and others we know only through records, like the one you are holding now.

This is Jason’s third recording with the Janus Ensemble, which he has been leading in flexible configurations since 2008. All the musicians on this album have been part of the ensemble since then, except for two new additions on this record, the phenomenal reed player Oscar Noriega and myself on trombone. Though I’m new to the Janus ensemble, Jason and I have been close collaborators and friends for about 20 years, working in numerous bands and projects together. We first met when he moved to San Diego for the same reason I did: to study music with George Lewis and Anthony Davis in a graduate program at UC San Diego

Lewis and Davis radically expanded the questions we were asking about music and inspired us in endless ways. They modeled a creative practice that is rigorous in craft, wide open in creative possibility, and always with a thoughtful, complex and individual connection to the world. They encouraged us to develop our own communities and our own music, not just adopt theirs, but they also introduced us, figuratively and literally, to many other artists who would become important inspirations and mentors, including J.D. Parran and Marty Ehrlich, both on this record.

When I first met Jason, he had been playing on various scenes in northern California and had been mentored by the late Mel Graves, a bassist who ran a vibrant and highly original jazz program at Sonoma State University. Jason was immersed in music with typical intensity, having already released an album of his music on his own label while still in his early 20s. He was inquisitive, deep into the saxophone, creating music with darting, angular lines and exuberant grooves. His music had a driving quality, an optimistic, forward momentum, but always with a sense of openness to shifts in direction, whether subtle or extreme.

I still hear that same musical DNA in Jason’s sound, but deepened through two decades of work and expanded to a broader palette through collaborations like this one. This suite is carefully crafted to feature all of the improvisers in both solo and collective contexts while also covering a wide-ranging compositional terrain. Some sections delve deep into texture and sound, either through detailed score notations that exploit the band’s unusual instrumentation, or through improvisations set within imaginative backdrops. Other stretches of music revel in the rich rhythmic and harmonic language of jazz traditions, sometimes recalling the buoyant energies of early big band music and other times with a more abstract lens that evokes later “creative orchestra” explorations. What ties it all together and makes the work a long-form composition rather than just a sequence of varied parts is the dialogue among these different soundworlds, not just between movements but within them; none of the tracks end where they begin, and each travels unpredictably through a different blend of historical references, individual expressions and sonic explorations.

The band you hear on this record is diverse in generation as well as musical backgrounds, and along with those mentioned above, the lineup includes other equally renowned composer-improvisers. Multi-reedist Marty Ehrlich, like J.D. Parran, began his long history of contributions to this music working with musicians from BAG and the AACM in St. Louis during the late 1960s, and over the decades since has created a wide-ranging body of creative work as a composer and collaborator. The versatile bassist and composer Drew Gress has long been one of the most in-demand improvisers on the NYC scene, grounding bands led by an incredible range of contemporary innovators, and the same can be said of acclaimed guitarist and composer Liberty Ellman, another musician here connected to Henry Threadgill, in Liberty’s case through working closely with Threadgill over many years alongside his own projects.

This band encompasses a fascinating cross-section of jazz-inspired contemporary music scenes, broad and difficult to categorize, but one thread running through the Janus Ensemble and Jason’s music is the idea that this wide range of creative expression and method is central to jazz traditions, and always has been. Many people in the jazz industry still seem eager to reinforce old fault lines and put every new record in a particular box, with avant-garde flavors on one side and “traditional” ones on the other. But music like this embodies a more expansive stance, a recognition that a wide spectrum of expressive possibilities is always present to begin with, endlessly woven into new forms by individuals responding to changing contexts. Speaking in Arthur Taylor’s classic 1972 book of musician-to-musician interviews, the great drummer Philly Joe Jones harshly critiques “bag carriers” who superficially imitate the screams of the avant-garde, but he also cites artists like John Coltrane to distinguish experimentalists who are committed to a deep, integrative craft. In response to a question about “freedom music,” Jones deftly deconstructs conventional discursive boundaries by commenting that “everybody’s been playing free. Every time you play a solo you’re free to play what you want to play. That’s freedom right there.”5 I hope you can enjoy this new music by Jason Robinson and the Janus Ensemble in that spirit. Thanks for listening. — Michael Dessen

Works cited
1. Taylor Ho Bynum, “Guest Post: Taylor Ho Bynum on Bill Lowe,” in Destination: Out, Feb. 1, 2012, accessed June 20, 2017 <http://destination-out.com/?p=3384>.
2. Interview with J.D. Parran by Yusef Jones, accessed June 2017: <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DMYc63l6OMg>.
3. Yusef A. Lateef, “The Pleasures of Voice in Improvised Music,” in Roberta Thelwell, ed., Views on Black American Music: Selected Proceedings from the Fourteenth, Fifteenth, Sixteenth and Seventeenth Annual Black Musicians’ Conferences, University of Massachusetts at Amherst, No. 3 (1985–1988) pp. 43–46.
4. George E. Lewis, “Too Many Notes: Computers, Complexity and Culture in ‘Voyager,’” Leonardo Music Journal, Vol. 10 (2000), pp. 33-39.
5. Art Taylor. Notes and Tones : Musician-to-Musician Interviews. New York: Da Capo Press, 1993, pp. 47-48.
_______________________________________________________
Resonant Geographies is a meditation on place, memory, relationships, and community. Each movement of the suite is inspired by specific places, a canvas of various experiences and memories for me over a number of years. These are not the sounds of places in a narrow sense, but what is contained here might as well be considered a sounding of those places. A subtle but important distinction. A proportion, a relationship, a scent, a feeling. Like the shifting translucent blues and oranges of a rejuvenating and boundless sunset along the north coast of California, or the warm embraces or knowing glances of friends and loved ones, this project is a process. It continues to unfold. Great heartache, struggle, discovery, and rebirth accompanied/s its long stages. My heart smiles again. I hope that you, the listener, find yourself in the sounds contained here. And I hope we are all guided by compassion and empathy as we sound places, relationships, communities.

This album is dedicated to George Finney Thomason.

I’ve been drawn to the ocean for as long as I can remember. Some of my earliest memories are standing on giant rocks extending into the majestic Pacific some four hours north of San Francisco, while staring with amazement at the spray created by crashing waves, enchanted by the patterns of mussels on rocks, the endless volume of water, the mysterious and beckoning horizon. And the smell—salt, seaweed, richly moist, oxygenated air. I feel at home in this wondrous meeting of water, land, and air. I can still see my great grandfather standing on the bluffs, the rocks, the beaches, and hear his voice as he guides and encourages me to explore. What kind of place is the vast, unimaginably large expanse of the ocean? — Jason Robinson

Deepest thanks to my musical collaborators and friends heard on this recording, whose collaborative spirits and finely tuned personal sound approaches make immeasurable contributions to the music. Thanks also to numerous others who helped make this project possible: Mike Marciano, Rich Breen, Jeff Kaiser, Glenn Siegel, Priscilla Page, Matan Rubinstein, Paul Lichter, Eric Lewis, Jim Staley, Jamie Sandel, and my colleagues at Amherst College. And without the love and support of my closest friends and family, none of this would have been possible. Let’s put this on the turntable, Piccolo. It’s about time!

This recording was made possible by the H. Axel Schupf ’57 Fund for Intellectual Life at Amherst College.

pfMENTUM
PFMCD115
www.pfmentum.com

Quentin Tolimieri: Piano (PFMCD105)

Jeff Kaiser

[playlist ids="989"]

Quentin Tolimieri : Piano

1. pointslinesplanes 6:57
2. changing/same 16:04
3. shorty 1:39
4. green dolphin st. 5:07
5. fours and ones 7:39
6. different weights and sizes 4:27
7. well you needn’t 3:14
8. fin 9:30

Quentin Tolimieri: Piano

Recorded and mastered by Jim Clouse at Park West Studios, Brooklyn NY on 2 November 2015 and 23 November 2015

Album design by Scott Gaynor

Cover photo: Cookie Cutter by Allen Lai
Interior photo: 2014_02_06_lhr-ewr_391w_ by Doc Searls
Both images available under a Creative Commons Attribution license
https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

All tracks © Quentin Tolimieri (ASCAP) 2015, except On Green Dolphin Street by Kaper/Washington, © Patti Washington Music/Shapiro Bernstein OBO Catherine Hinen Music/BMG Gold Songs OBO Primary Wave Songs and and Well You Needn’t by T. Monk, Regent Music Corporation. Used by Permission. All rights reserved.

pfMENTUM CD105
PFMCD105

Dick Wood: Not Far From Here (PFMCD065)

Jeff Kaiser

[playlist ids="514"]
Dick Wood: Not Far From Here

Dick Wood: alto sax, flute, whistle, boom box

Dan Clucas: cornet, flute, octokoto, other sounds

Hal Onserud: bass

Mark Trayle: live electronics with Supercollider graphics

Marty Mansour: drums, percussion on tracks 1 and 3

Dan Ostermann: trombone with space mute

Chuck Manning: tenor saxophone, percussion

1 Ignatious 7:05
2 Mango Season 1 1 : 1 1
3 Cook the Books 8 : 1 1
4 Not Far From Here 8:35
5 No Known Knowns 7:29
6 And Now 5:07

Not Far from Here
dick wood
All compositions by Dick Wood
© 2011 Zyc Slick Productions

recorded by Scott Fraser at Architecture, Los Angeles
June 15 & (tracks 1 & 3) Oct. 19, 2008
mastered by Wayne Peet, April 2011, Newzone Studio, Los Angeles
all compositions by Dick Wood
cover photo by Steve DeGroodt
model Sapna Khurama
liner notes Paul Wood
graphics Patt Narrowe
special gratitude to Scott Fraser,
Bobby Bradford, Nels Cline,
Bonnie Barnett, Woody Aplanalp,
Lewis Jordan, Ben and Linda Wood,
Sue Dorsey, Lissa Callaghan,
John Wood, Joanne Parker
thanks to
Emily Hay, Kay Sera, Noriko Honma
© 2011 zyc slick productions

pfMENTUM CD065

PFMCD065

Bonnie Barnett Group: In Between Dreams (PFMCD063)

Jeff Kaiser

[playlist ids="512"]
Bonnie Barnett Group: In Between Dreams

1. Badinage 4:00
2. Matisse* 8:24
(verbatim text: Gertrude Stein)
3. In Between Dreams 5:21
4. Primordial 8:18
5. Nothingness† 10:27
(verbatim text: Jean-Paul Sartre)
6. Set In Stone 4:14
7. Shambala 8:01

TOTAL TIME: 49:15

Bonnie Barnett: vocals
Richard Wood: alto sax, flute, bass clarinet
Hal Onserud: bass
Garth Powell: percussion

All music FMZ Music Co. (BMI) All rights reserved.
All music © pfMentum
For more information: www.pfmentum.com

Bonnie Barnett is an improviser of unusual clarity. A cornerstone of the Los Angeles New Music scene, and the composer of the TUNNEL HUMs, Barnett has mightily contributed to the worlds of contemporary classical music and improvisation and is one of Los Angeles’ hidden treasures. Barnett’s impressive array of vocal extensions creates a personal world of sonic texture that is unrivaled. Barnett’s new CD finds her using texts, tone, and timbre in a stunning display of virtuosity that sends the listener towards worlds of subterranean as well as ethereal delights.

Vinny Golia–Los Angeles CA.–4/22/2011

Recorded (7/10) and mixed (9/10-2/11) by Scott Fraser at Architecture, Los Angeles
Mastered (2/11) by Wayne Peet at Newzone Studio, Los Angeles
*2. Matisse – text: Gertrude Stein’s portrait of the artist Henri Matisse. Permission granted by the Estate of Gertrude Stein, through its Literary Executor, Mr. Stanford Gann, Jr. of Levin & Gann, P.A.
†5. Nothingness – text: “The Origin of Negation”, excerpt from Jean-Paul Sartre’s Essay On Nothingness, courtesy of Philosophical Library, Inc.
Painting on cover: “In Principio”, acrylic on wood panels, by Peter Veblen Van Fleet, 2010.
Photos of the musicians: © Steve De Groodt 2011. All rights reserved.
Design: Ted Killian
© Bonnie Barnett 2011. All rights reserved.
All music FMZ Music Co. (BMI)

BONNIE BARNETT, vocalist, composer and improviser, resides in Los Angeles. She appears on two DICE compilations and has three releases on Nine Winds, including the 2006 “Trio For Two”, a duo with bassist Ken Filiano. She has been exploring the texts of Gertrude Stein, Jean-Paul Sartre and others, and also delights in improvising faux text.

RICHARD WOOD, alto sax, flute and bass clarinet, resides in Los Angeles. Founding member of The And Now Ensemble, he continues to amaze southern California audiences with his intense, yet zany, performances. He has a new CD, “Not Far From Here”, for quintet and septet, which will be released this year on pfMentum.

HAL ONSERUD, bass, currently resides in Santa Barbara. A long-time player on the New York scene, his improvising collaborators include Cecil Taylor, William Parker, Bill Dixon, Vinny Golia, Jackson Krall and many others.

GARTH POWELL, percussionist extraordinaire, resides in the San Francisco Bay Area. He has releases out on Rastascan, Roadcone, Nine Winds, Evander, Beak Doctor and Leo, and has recorded with, among others, Jaap Blonk, John Butcher, Nels Cline, Peter Kowald, Bert Turetsky, Saadet Turkos and the London Improvisors Orchestra.

pfMENTUM CD063

PFMCD063

Rich West: Mayo Grout’s Known Universe (PFMCD055)

Jeff Kaiser

[playlist ids="478"]
Rich West

FEATURING:
Tony Atherton
Ace Farren Ford
Bruce Friedman
Paul Green
Emily Hay
Eric Johnson
Haskel Joseph
David Kendall
Steuart Liebig
Jill Meschke
Walter Zooi

1. I’m a Cockroach; Adapt, Adapt – part one 18:05
2. Short I Am 3:22
3. On Her Wrists She Wore Her Interest 10:09
4. Newness 5:13
5. I’m a Cockroach; Adapt, Adapt – part two 6:28
6. Five-Lane Parasite 5:47
7. ES-1 10:33
Total Playing time: 59:43
© 2009 Book Crazy, BMI

1 and 5 recorded at Architecture, Los Angeles, CA, Jan. 21, 2003
mixed 2003–2006, Scott Fraser, engineering
2, 3 and 6 recorded at Architecture sometime in 1995
mixed 2003–2006, Scott Fraser, engineering
4 and 7 recorded at Rick Cox’s studio above John Carter’s in Los Angeles, CA, sometime in 1991, Rick Cox, engineering
Editing by Phyllis West
Emily Hay: flute 1–7; voice 4
Bruce Friedman: trumpet 1, 5
David Kendall: bass guitar 1, 5; electronics 1
Haskel Joseph: guitar 1–3, 5, 6
Ace Farren Ford: vocals 1
Tony Atherton: alto sax 2–4, 6, 7
Steuart Liebig: bass guitar 2–3, 6
Eric Johnson: bassoon 4, 7
Walter Zooi: trumpet 4, 7
Jill Meschke: keyboards 4, 7
Paul Green: bass guitar 4, 7
Rich West: drums 1–7; subjected to voice 3
Layout and design by Jeremy Drake

Of
AG.

The jet-like whirring sound started again. Neighbor Riley was angry but knew that going over to Grout’s house would be a futile journey. Didn’t anyone else on the block hear the world’s-end racket? “I’m just doing some work,” Grout had yelled when Riley had first complained. Then, three days ago, Riley had summoned up the courage to bang on the garage door with his fists. Grout had popped his head out of a side door. “What kind of work?” Riley had asked. “Just some power sawing. I’ll be done in half an hour.” Of course, it had gone on much longer than that. This time, convinced that any plea for quiet would send Grout into a rage, Riley called the police, feeling his chest tighten as he punched in the numbers. “It seems you’ve been using a lot of energy, sir, and we‘d like to know what it‘s all about,” said the patrol officer. After the initial obligatory round of yelling for civil rights, Harry Grout had invited the two cops into the garage to see for themselves. Within a month ten reporters called, then a mystery-man got very interested in the project, and Grout was able to convince some very rich investors to procure private equity interests…

(Please purchase the CD To see how the story finishes.)

pfMENTUM CD055

PFMCD055

Bruce Friedman: O.P.T.I.O.N.S. / OPTIONS (PFMCD054)

Jeff Kaiser

[playlist ids="476"]
O.P.T.I.O.N.S.
Lynn Johnston: clarinets
Ellen Burr: flutes
Eric Sbar: euphonium
Bruce Friedman: trumpet
Michael Intriere: cello
Andrea Lieberherr: violin
Emily Beezhold: keyboard synthesizer
Jeremy Drake: electric guitar
Rich West: drums, percussion
Special thanks to
Haskel Joseph: guitar and
Richard Kim: violin for their participation

Tracks:
1. Monochromatic Textures (MCT-1) 3:35
2. MCT – 2 with Solos 10:10
3. MCT – 3 with Solos 19:25
4. MCT – 4 with Duos 16:45
total time: 49:57

“O.P.T.I.O.N.S. is a collection of music notation symbols, both original and traditional that were designed and compiled with the intent of minimally guiding improvisation. The selection, order and interpretation of the symbols are left to the ensemble, hence the acronym O.P.T.I.O.N.S. — Optional Parameters To Improvise Organized Nascent Sounds.

For this recording, each symbol became manifest as a musical texture. Three of the compositions include improvised solos or duets. This ensemble gave two concert performances in the Los Angeles area. The O.P.T.I.O.N.S. CD is the result of artistic contributions made by this wonderful group of devoted musicians. While I did guide the project, the music’s evolution was very much a collaboration. I cannot thank the individual participants enough for their invaluable contributions to this endeavor.

–Bruce Friedman”

Recorded at Architecture on March 26, 2005
Scott Fraser – studio engineer (recording, mixing, mastering)
P & C 2008 brucefriedmanmusic, BMI
www.pfMENTUM.com
Graphic notation by Bruce Friedman
Layout and design by Jeremy Drake

pfMENTUM CD054

PFMCD054

The Alan Lechusza / Christopher Adler Duo: Mineralia (PFMCD032)

Jeff Kaiser

[playlist ids="427"]
The Alan Lechusza / Christopher Adler Duo

ALAN LECHUSZA: e-flat clarinet, bass clarinet, soprano and baritone saxophones, ryuteki

CHRISTOPHER ADLER: Piano

1. schist
2. skarn
3. sphene
4. schorl
5. orogeny
6. Orovician
7. karst
8. gneiss
9. flysch
10. xenolith

Alan Lechusza and Christopher Adler first met and established an improvising duo early in 2000, very soon after which they recorded their debut album Pleistocene. Committed to free improvisation that fully explores the musical experiences of both artists, the duo quickly established a musical presence in San Diego. The duo has formed the nucleus of many musical projects over the past half-decade, including the Christopher Adler Trio, Metal with Reeds…Reeds of Metal, Alan Lechusza’s Side A/Side B, The Yellow Chair Ensemble, and Iguana. Performing throughout Southern California, the duo has collaborated with performers including Gustavo Aguilar, Nina Eidsheim, Christopher Garcia, Nathan Hubbard and Scott Walton. For Lechusza and Adler (both active internationally as composers, repertoire performers and scholars) the duo has been an invaluable inspiration. Their collaboration has given rise to works such as Adler’s I Want to Believe and Song for a Form Carved by Water, and Lechusza’s The Underwear Conspiracy and As the Rain Comes.

Recorded January 23, 2003 by Josef Kucera and Nathan Brock
at UCSD Music Center Studios, University of California, San Diego, California
Mastered by Wayne Peet at Newzone Studio, Los Angeles
Musician photos by Lance Nelson
Landscape photos and design by Christopher Adler
©2006 Alan Lechusza and Christopher Adler (ASCAP)

pfMENTUM CD032

PFMCD032

Emily Hay: Like Minds (PFMCD022)

Jeff Kaiser

[playlist ids="403"]
This recording represents various musical projects in which I have participated over the past few years. All tracks are improvisations with no overdubs or second takes, with the exception of “A Year and Two Weeks” where a vocal track was added. “Call To Unarm” and “Like Minds” are from live concert performances, and “A Year and Two Weeks,” “Swamp Moss,” “Waiting For Sara” and “Crooked Hopscotch” were recorded direct to two track tape, with no multi-track mixing. Special thanks to all of the musicians who performed on these recordings, to Lee Scott, Randy Fuelle and Wayne Peet for their engineering expertise, to Annette Buhl for her photography and to Jeff Kaiser for his artwork design and support in releasing this disc.

-Emily Hay, 1.1.05
www.emilyhay.com

Emily Hay • Like Minds

1. CALL TO UNARM 8:56
Emily Hay – Flute, Alto Flute, Voice • Ronit Kirchman – Violin, Voice • Brad Dutz – Percussion • Joe Berardi – Percussion
2. LITURGY OF SOUND 5:40
Emily Hay – Flute, Voice • Lisle Ellis – Electronics, Bass • Marcos Fernandes – Percussion, Field Recordings
3. A YEAR AND TWO WEEKS 4:01
Emily Hay – Voice • Michael Whitmore – Guitar • Brad Dutz – Synthesizer
4. BOILED CADILLAC 4:35
Emily Hay – Flute • Wayne Peet – Piano • Brad Dutz – Percussion
5. CROOKED HOPSCOTCH 8:18
Emily Hay – Flute, Voice • Sara Schoenbeck – Bassoon • Michael Intriere – Cello • Brad Dutz – Percussion
6. WE ARE 6:16
Emily Hay – Flute, Voice • Marcos Fernandes – Percussion
7. LIKE MINDS 7:09
Emily Hay – Piccolo, Voice • Ronit Kirchman – Violin, Voice • Kurt Heyl – Trombone, Voice
8. WHA’ ‘BOUT 9:32
Emily Hay – Flute, Alto Flute, Voice • Steuart Leibig – Bass • Rich West – Drums, Background Recordings
9. SPAR 2:31
Emily Hay – Flute, Voice • Lisle Ellis – Electronics, Bass • Marcos Fernandes – Percussion, Field Recordings
10. WAITING FOR SARA 3:06
Emily Hay – Voices • Michael Intriere – Cellos • Brad Dutz – Percussion
11. HIBIKI 5:36
Emily Hay – Flute • Marcos Fernandes – Percussion
12. SWAMP MOSS 2:30
Emily Hay – Voice • Michael Whitmore – Guitar • Brad Dutz – Melodica

1. Recorded by Jeff Kaiser at Ventura City Hall, Ventura, CA 2004 Mastered by Lee Scott, Glendale, CA 2004
2. Recorded by Randy Fuelle, Hit Single Studios, San Diego, CA 2004 Mixed and mastered by Mark Wheaton, Catasonic Studios, Los Angeles, CA 2004
3. Recorded by Brad Dutz in North Hollywood, CA circa 1994
4. Overdub recorded/mixed by Wayne Peet, Newzone Studios, Los Angeles, CA 1997 Mastered by Lee Scott, Glendale, CA 2004
4. Recorded and mixed by Wayne Peet, Newzone Studios, Los Angeles, CA 1997 Mastered by Lee Scott, Glendale, CA 2004
5. Recorded by Brad Dutz, Tujunga, CA circa 2000 Mastered by Lee Scott, Glendale, CA 2004
6. Recorded by Randy Fuelle, Hit Single Studios, San Diego, CA 2004 Mixed and mastered by Lee Scott, Glendale, CA 2004
7. Recorded by Ronit Kirchman/Jeremy Drake, Asto Gallery, Los Angeles, CA 2003 Mastered by Lee Scott, Glendale, CA 2004
8. Recorded and mixed by Wayne Peet, Newzone Studios, Los Angeles, CA 1997 Mastered by Lee Scott, Glendale, CA 2004
9. Recorded by Randy Fuelle, Hit Single Studios, San Diego, CA 2004 Mixed and mastered by Mark Wheaton, Catasonic Studios, Los Angeles, CA
10. Recorded by Brad Dutz, Tujunga, CA circa 2000 Mastered by Lee Scott, Glendale, CA 2004
11. Recorded by Randy Fuelle, Hit Single Studios, San Diego, CA 2003 Mixed and mastered by Lee Scott, Glendale, CA 2004
12. Recorded by Brad Dutz, North Hollywood, CA 1994 Mastered by Lee Scott, Glendale, CA 2004

Photography: Annette Buhl • Art Design and Layout: Jeff Kaiser
(p) Emily C. Hay 2005, (c) Emily Hay Music, publishing administered by Emily Hay Music (BMI). All rights reserved. For more information: pfMENTUM • PO Box 1653 • Ventura • CA • 93002 • www.pfmentum.com

pfMENTUM CD022

PFMCD022