It’s not the first solo saxophone album by far, and it won’t be the last, and Jason Robinson is aware of that. In the liner notes to Cerebus Rising, he credits the solo performances on Roscoe Mitchell’s double album Nonaah as a major influence: “I was mesermized by Mitchell’s use of repetition and the unpredictable psychology of performing improvised solo saxophone.”
The use of repetition as a tool is evident all over this album. Robinson hovers near conventional sax methods most of the time, but his focus here is on sound exploration rather than “tunes.” He takes an idea and works it until it begins to spiral outward. Tracks focus on what can be built one breath at a time; he doesn’t go for the circular breathing that can produce uninterrupted sound for minutes on end.
The result is jazzy, but when I say “near-conventional playing,” it’s not normal conventional playing. Each track sparkles with extended ideas: multiphonic buzzes, trills, air-through-horn, etc.
Tracks like “Nonaah Variation” and “Three Sphinxes of Bikini” have the white space to be classified as meditative, but Robinson is rarely in quiet mode for a full track. He sticks to bold statements. His sidewalk chalk produces more than skinny lines; he’s drawing regions, artfully traced and thoughtfully shaded.
That backbone is evident even on the lyrical, borderline romantic passages within “After the Rain” and “Creator Variation 1,” or the slower “Dura Mater.”
One track that’s a particular treat is “Arachnoid,” a slower piece that has the gimmick of a rough rasp, a dry fluidity as if the air is scraping the sides of the horn.
There’s so much to say about solo saxophone as a subgenre. You’ve got Evan Parker‘s extensive catalogue, of course. Julius Hemphill‘s resurrected Blue Boyé on Screwgun. And I was pleasantly surprised to see Robinson’s notes mention Gianni Gebbia, a deeply creative Italian saxophonist whom I’ve had the pleasure of seeing in the Bay Area a few times.
To justify adding to the pile, it seems reasonable for an artist to aim for a statement of style, a declaration. I think Robinson has accomplished that here. Next, I ought to look up Nonaah to brush up on my own saxophone roots, to get an even deeper understanding of where he’s coming from.