Returning from a weekend reunion of classmates, I drove through the Cascade Mountains as the deciduous trees on Blewett Pass were beginning their glorious fall display…
…which inspired thoughts of this:
Out of the mountains, headed east on a back road, I listened to Scott Robinson’s and Julian Thayer’s new duo album on Robinson’s ScienSonic Laboratories label. The CD’s title is ? To call Robinson a multi-instrumentalist is to shortchange him. He is a kaleido-instrumentalist. On ?, he plays low on the contrabass sarrusophone, high on the clarinet, and between on echo cornet, C-melody saxophone, theremin, junk banjo and slide saxophone, to mention a sampling of his arsenal. Altogether, Thayer and Robinson play at least three dozen instruments. As if it had been scripted, just as I drove through a wind farm Robinson played a tenor saxophone solo—quiet, contemplative—with Thayer’s bass accompaniment on a piece called “I Wonder.” It matched the space-age eeriness of the scene.
For all of their quick instrumental changes and schtick that sometimes approaches vaudeville but does not cross into it, the two produce serious music that calls for serious listening.
Robinson’s previous Sciensonic album, Mission In Space, features a five-piece band that he calls a spacetette. Bassist Pat O’Leary and percussionist Kevin Norton back Robinson and alto saxophonist Marshall Allen, who has heavy credentials in bebop and free jazz. For the recording, the veteran bassist Henry Grimes joined the band. Robinson confines himself to 15 instruments, among them the sonic laser actuator and the photo-optic theremin. Never fear, he also plays tenor sax, an instrument that has brought him increasing attention. The record opens with all members playing space sound tubes and coming gradually closer. The CD illustrations do not show us a space sound tube. It may be best to imagine one, as it is best not to attempt to classify this intriguing music.