June 13, 2024


Website about Jazz and Blues

Roxy Coss and Scott Robinson turn their tenors up to 11, among other gifts: Photos, Videos, Sounds

And by “other gifts,” we mean an irresistible groove from Avishai Cohen; a mysterious swirl by Ben LaMar Gay and JayVe Montgomery; and a choice morsel of Andy Summers playing Thelonious Monk.

Scott Robinson has earned a reputation in jazz circles as a human Swiss Army knife — a wind player of almost comically multifarious expression, from the flute to the trumpet to the contrabass sarrusophone. You may have seen him toggling between these options at WBGO’s Jazz on the Mountain, or as a member of the Maria Schneider Orchestra. Maybe you’ve seen Robinson presenting one of his amiably far-out projects like Bronze Nemesis, inspired by the pulp sci-fi superhero Doc Savage, and featuring instruments like the Moog Theremin.

The instrument eclecticism is genuine, as anyone who has spoken with Robinson can attest. But it can often obscure the fact that he is a stone killer on tenor saxophone. Last year I experienced a bolt of clarity on this subject, while writing liner notes for the Frank Kimbrough boxed set Monk’s Dreams: The Complete Compositions of Thelonious Monk (Sunnyside). There was a lot to say about how Kimbrough and his quartet approached the challenge of recording Monk’s full catalog — and one thing that struck me most was the beauty and swinging strength of Robinson on tenor.

Now we have even clearer argument in Tenormore, a new album on Arbors Records. An unmistakable showcase for Robinson’s tenor saxophone — specifically, the 1924 Conn tenor that he has owned for more than 40 years — it’s also just a smart and personable quartet outing that covers an admirable breadth of style. The track above is “Tenor Eleven,” a lively Robinson original that incorporates blues form in 11 bars. His playing is adventurous and soulful, and he has impeccable partners in pianist Helen Sung, bassist Martin Wind and drummer Dennis Mackrel.

Roxy Coss, “Don’t Cross the Coss”

Speaking of strong voices on the tenor saxophone, Roxy Coss recently announced a new video album, Quintet, to be released by Outside In Music on Aug. 23. The quintet in question is a corker, with Coss on tenor, Alex Wintz on guitar, Miki Yamanaka on piano, Rick Rosato on bass and Jimmy Macbride on drums.

The first available track from the album is “Don’t Cross the Coss,” which has been a kind of theme song for the group for the last few years. The song, which has a familiar bebop chord progression and a melody that winks at the Tristano school, has become a sort of signature for this group. (It originally led off Coss’s 2016 album Restless Idealism.) As on the rest of Quintet, there’s a crackling, in-the-moment spark to the performance, and it’s captured well on film.

Avishai Cohen, “Simonero”

When the Israeli bassist and composer Avishai Cohen last released an album, 1970, he made it an exploration of funk and soul, putting himself out front as a singer. His new album, Arvoles, just out on Razdaz/Sunnyside, returns to the sound of a worldly, groove-minded jazz combo. Cohen’s rhythmic upright bass playing serves as the fulcrum of a rhythm section that features two lesser-known but serious players: pianist Elchin Shirinov, from Azerbaijan, and drummer Noam David, from Israel.

On some tracks — including “Simonero,” featured above — there’s a place in the music for flute (Anders Hagberg) and trombone (Björn Samuelsson). The feel of the song is unmistakable: this is an Avishai Cohen groove, of the sort that used to be regularly heard at Smalls and elsewhere in New York. (Another track on the album even bears the title “New York ‘90s,” as if Cohen is copping to the charge.) On some level, musically speaking, it feels like coming home.

Ben LaMar Gay and JayVe Montgomery, “Freedom Day”

Ben LaMar Gay is an improviser from Chicago’s South Side who has achieved a sort of cult-hero stature over the last year, since the release of his compilation album Downtown Castles Can Never Block the Sun,on International Anthem. Now the label is in the process of exhuming and releasing the albums that gave Downtown Castles its source material — the latest of which is  Freddie Douggie: Live on Juneteenth, featuring LaMar Gay and another multi-instrumentalist, JayVe Montgomery.

The album was recorded on Shackle Island, Tenn. at a Juneteenth celebration, in an unspecified year. Its vibe is loose, fragmentary, defiant in its implacable self-containment. (Both musicians vocalize and play various instruments; in the credits, next to their names, the only thing listed is “lettin’ MFah’s know.”) What we can infer about the track called “Freedom Day,” which has its premiere here, is that LaMar Gay plays a muted trumpet, and Montgomery is on reeds. Either one, or both, could be responsible for the rustling percussion, drum-machine clatter and electronic glitch-shimmer on the track.

Andy Summers, “Ugly Beauty”

The Sound It Out concert series, founded and presented by Bradley Bambarger at Greenwich House Music School, has been an invaluable fixture of the New York scene for the last seven years. Next Tuesday, June 25, as part of an anniversary celebration, the series will present Monk on Guitars 2, featuring an assortment of guitarists playing the music of Thelonious Monk. Among them are Steve Cardenas, David Gilmore, Miles Okazaki — and Andy Summers, formerly of The Police.

This isn’t stunt programming, as you’ll know if you were paying attention around the time of Green Chimneys: The Music of Thelonious Monk (RCA Victor). Summers made that album in 1998 with partners like bassist Dave Carpenter and drummer Peter Erskine, and he came correct. (In his notes, he gives special thanks to Cardenas, the guru for all things Monk-on-a-six-string.) Listen to Summers’ phrasing and harmonic navigation on “Ugly Beauty,” for a sense of the care behind this project. It’s sure to be present again at next Tuesday’s concert, where the bassists on hand will include Michael Formanek and Jerome Harris, and the drummers are Francisco Mela, Richie Barshay, Satoshi Takeishi and Kate Gentile.

Roxy Coss will release a video album, 'Quintet,' on the Outside In label on Aug. 23

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