Herb Robertson NY Downtown Allstars – Real Aberration (CF 096)
Alípio C Neto Quartet – The Perfume Comes Before the Flower (CF 093)
Trumpeter Herb Robertson’s NY Downtown Allstars is a band of bandleaders: Tim Berne (alto saxophone), Sylvie Courvoisier (piano), Mark Dresser (bass) and Tom Rainey (drums). For Real Aberration, a two-CD live recording made at the Casa Da Musica, in Porto, Portugal in 2006, Robertson wrote all of the material, but his compositions aren’t overly concerned with detailed ensemble structures or tightly negotiated heads. His art is to make these pieces feel like fiery improvisations, his works sounding like guiding structures rather than controlling charts.
Disc 1 features “Sick[s] Fragments,” which are certainly not episodic in nature. Instead, they develop very gradually, allowed ample time to make a measured procession from one section to another. There are virtually no breaks between the six tracks, the whole piece imbued with the character of a suite. Dresser is by turns brutal with his strings, then delicate, dominating for nearly ten minutes before the drums enter for their own statement. The horns take their time to begin their bustling and there is a similarity to Cecil Taylor’s build-up of contrasting phases, with Courvoisier providing exotic Far Eastern chime-tones to this miasma of sound. The second disc presents “Re-Elaboration,” a single extended work, which also has a very gradual developmental curve, with Dresser percussing, Courvoisier tentatively entering, while Robertson and Berne blow almost silently into their tubes. Dresser initiates an obsessive clunking and Rainey responds, the horns starting to riff, piano alternately sprinkling and thundering. Momentum gathers until a drumming tattoo threatens to close this slightly inconclusive composition.
Ironically, the precise brilliance of Robertson’s soloing and his fully crackling tone are more in evidence on the Brazilian tenor saxophonist Alípio C. Neto’s The Perfume Comes Before the Flower, recorded in Brooklyn with Ken Filiano (bass), Ben Stapp (guest tuba) and Michael TA Thompson, who describes himself as a soundrhythium percussionist, but actually sounds as though he’s mostly playing a regular kit.
Neto’s pieces also possess a strong improvisatory feel, their vocabulary harking back to the ’70s loft scene, with fleeting themes giving way to extended bursts of shaped chaos. Robertson’s trumpet and cornet solos are the complete embodiment of brassiness, his ripping tone always bright, gutsy and on the attack. He works well with Neto, supporting the leader’s squalling multiphonics, commenting and underlining. At one stage, both of them alternately keep up a flute twitter while the other solos on their regular horn, cowbells shaking and nimble tuba making its first appearance, adding a quality that’s reminiscent of early Arthur Blythe. Energy levels are kept high throughout the entire disc and both of these albums effectively address the tensions between composition and improvisation, the best stretches often ensuing when each sounds like the other.