Jason Robinson – The Two Faces Of Janus – Cuneiform Records Rune 311, 76:03 ****:

(Jason Robinson – tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone, alto flute; Liberty Ellman – guitar; Drew Gress – bass; George Schuler – drums and percussion; Marty Ehrlick – alto saxophone, bass clarinet; Rudresh Mahanthappa – alto saxophone)

Jason Robinson is resolute in eliminating regional stereotypes of the jazz world. Raised on the West Coast, he is on the music faculty at Amherst College in Massachusetts. Despite his West Coast affiliation, he was influenced by the likes of Charles Mingus, Ornette Coleman, Eric Dolphy, Dexter Gordon, and many others on the cutting edge of the New York scene. He has been part of two bi-coastal groups, Cosmological and The Cross Border Trio, emphasizing strong improvisational formats. Additionally, he has played and recorded with a vast assortment of contemporary musicians.

The Two Faces Of Janus is part of a three-record project (on three different labels). A practitioner of modern jazz, Robinson is clearly influenced by the traditional movements, including bop. He has assembled some of the finest New York based jazz musicians. The primary quartet consists of Liberty Ellman (guitar), Drew Gress (bass) and George Schuler (drums). Included on the record are stellar experimental reed players, Marty Ehrlich and Rudresh Mahanthappa. Based on polyphonic counterpoint, the compositions draw from past genres and modern constructs, hence the symbolic title. The opening cut, “Return To Pacasmayo” captures the modern approach to bop, as Robinson and Ehrlich execute sharp counterpoints against a hard driving rhythm section. The addition of Mahanthappa creates a three-pronged reed swirl as the piece segues into a more fluid guitar solo by Ellman. The reed trio “attack” continues on the incendiary title cut, as the players challenge the compositional boundaries. The guitar opening on “Tides Of Consciousness Fading” sets a relaxed downbeat for the linear exploration of the two saxophones, and an inspired, soulful bass clarinet solo by Ehrlich.  A traditional jazz swing inhabits “The Twelfth Labor” as Robinson lyrical verve alternates with tempo breaks and improvisational runs.

The ensemble maintains a coherent structure, and, at the same time, develops uninhibited experimentation. The quartet structure is exchanged for avant-garde improvisation on “Huaca De La Luna” and “Huaca Del Sol.” The former invokes a terse harshness with free-form improvisation. At the end, the seemingly disjointed melodies coalesce in a surprising delicacy. The latter piece seems more lyrical, with more cohesive play.  Robinson is capable of merging both past and present jazz idioms, while creating a cultural bridge that spans both coasts.   

TrackList: Return To Pacasmayo; The Two Faces Of Janus; The Elders; Huaca De La Luna; Tides Of Consciousness Fading; Cerebrus Reigning; Persephone’s Scream; Paper Tiger; Huaca Del Sol; The Twelfth Labor

—  Robbie Gerson