Those who’ve been paying attention to the most recent skirmishes in the “jazz wars” may be aware that trombonist Jason Marsalis has voiced opposition to the music of what he calls Jazz Nerds International—players who compose in weird meters, who don’t swing and sometimes don’t improvise, and who play “a million notes an hour.” All the blog posts I’ve read on the subject since his mini-lecture went up on YouTube would suggest that I’m alone in thinking he might have a point—if not about the relative merits of his music vs. “their” music, at least from a diagnostic angle. To put it in as reductive a way as possible, if Jason Marsalis is a disciple of his older brother Wynton, the (thus far undeclared) members of Jazz Nerds International are disciples of Steve Coleman. They do exist; they do play more or less what he accuses them of playing…and that’s fine. That stuff has its place in my iPod, and so does more conventionally swinging, 4/4 hard bop. And if I were to categorize Brooklyn-based alto saxophonist Pete Robbins’ music, it absolutely wouldn’t be on the Marsalis side of the line.
Robbins leads this sextet, and the music they make together is extremely Brooklyn-circa-2010 in character. This is the second release by the group; it follows Do the Hate Laugh Shimmy, a 2007 studio date on Fresh Sound. I wouldn’t call Robbins a disciple of Steve Coleman, but I can definitely hear a little Greg Osby and a whole lot of Tim Berne, the latter of whom he studied with, in this music. It’s got a spaciousness, a predilection for electronics (cornetist Jesse Neuman and guitarist Mike Gamble are both also credited with “pedals”), and a ticking groove that remind me both of Berne’s bands and guitarist/producer David Torn’s Prezens, which featured Berne, keyboardist Craig Taborn and drummer Tom Rainey. siLENT Z Live has the same stinging, avant-skronk guitar sounds and slow-boiling drumming (here by the superb Tyshawn Sorey). To me, it’s a headphone album. Despite its title, a lot of this isn’t music I can easily imagine hearing/seeing performed live.
That being said, it’s a consistently interesting album, and I don’t mean that in a snide or pejorative way. Sorey’s drumming is what stands out for me the most; he’s really a fantastically hypnotic player. Every time I stumble across an album he’s on, I can’t stop listening to him. Robbins is too indebted to his teachers and influences to be interesting on his own, but he’s assembled a solid band, guitarist Gamble in particular. Pianist Cory Smythe’s work is a little too deliberately disjointed; he works against the rest of the ensemble like a skateboarder pulling off a trick he diagrammed on paper instead of learning through trial and bruising error. But when I’m in a mood for some seriously nerdy, forward-looking music, I’ll strongly consider pulling out this record.
1. Do I foresee myself listening to this record again? Maybe.
2. Should you buy this record? If this is your thing, you know it, and they do it very well, so yes.
Link to purchase, if you’re so inclined…