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Maybe too far out there

Cerberus Rising
Cerberus Rising
By Jason Robinson

Circumvention Music: 2009

Buy it now

This review first appeared in Turbula in July 2009.

Even for folks who like their music way out there, for whom melody is a dirty word, who embrace their inner cacophony, San Diego saxophonist Jason Robinson's latest takes some effort to wrap your head around. It is far more experimental even than his previous outing, "Fingerpaint."

For starters, the saxophone in all its many variants is not an instrument one easily associates with solo performance. Piano? Sure, Art Tatum and Oscar Peterson could hold a room rapt on the 88s. Guitar? Absolutely; Joe Pass had everything he needed in those six strings.

But the sax lacks the ability to play multiple notes at the same time – to harmonize itself – that guitar and piano have. It's one note at a time, and no matter how gifted, few saxophonists in history could hold our attention in a solo setting. (Coltrane, maybe, or Lester Young or Coleman Hawkins.)

Making this even more of a challenge is the fact that on this album, Robinson heads into orbit out beyond Orentte Coleman. Maybe not qutie to Planet Yoko, but awfully darn close.

Many of the tracks here are, by all appearances, fully improvised – composed on the fly. There are no strong themes or melodies to hold the listener's attention, no repeated motifs to offer a sense of structure.

Robinson plays with a gorgeous tone, and his improvisations on the slower pieces are gorgeous. (Particularly lovely is "Dura Mater".) On tracks like "Three Sphinxes of Bikini," however, the playing gets a bit dissonant and to the untrained ear sounds like noise.

Given the lack of familiar markers by which to judge the music found here, few outside hardcore avant-gardists or jazz experimentalists are likely to find this a compelling listen.