Cadence Magazine review by David Dupont

Herb Robertson NY Downtown Allstars – Real Aberration (CF 096)

Herb Robertson is a musical instigator of the first order. That’s demonstrated on this session, recorded in Europe, featuring New York-based musicians. Robertson as a bandleader and instrumentalist concocts musical structures that blossom as the disparate ensembles work off and with each other. And he doesn’t use his leadership as a pretext for showcasing his own horn. Though he has some wonderful solo spots here—I particularly fancy his ballad statements such as the plaintive episode on disc two. But everyone has a hand in guiding the piece using the map drafted by Robertson. On Real Aberration Dresser steers the action on the disc-long “Re-Elaboration,” giving the band its marching orders with deep, arco lines as the other four members of the quintet scamper along with flurries of notes. As Courvoisier plucks inside the piano, the horn players blows anxious, unsettled notes, Rainey clatters about his set, Dresser harrumphs below them. These help to guide the ensemble to the head that he and Berne play at first, then joined by Robertson in canon. At every turn Dresser is middle setting the tone, slowly shifting the mood. He guides the ensemble TO the piece’s conclusion with a bowed arco dirge. What makes Robertson’s music difficult to summarize in words is exactly what makes it a joy to experience as it unfolds. It’d be easy to define the music as a series of stylistic blocks but that would not do justice to the fluid way the music develops. While Dresser plays a central role, each member of the quintet has a hand in it. “Sick(s) Fragments,” which fills the first disc, grows out of a tone row figure. On the beginning of the third movement Robertson and Tim Berne work out the implications of this thread in an intricate duet. But as that strain threads its way through 40 minutes, moments of musical ecstasy occur. Courvoisier thunders and roars. Rainey steps up at the beginning of the second section adding thunder of his own. Yet this is not about individual statements but about individual voices contributing to the ever-shifting soundscape.

Robertson’s knack for shifting multi-dimensional work is evident. I like the sprawling work on Real Aberration kept on track by Dresser. ©Cadence Magazine

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