CD REVIEW: Scott Robinson – Tenormore



Scott Robinson – Tenormore
(Arbors Records ARCD 19462. CD review by Mark McKergow)

Quirky multi-instrumentalist Scott Robinson returns to his first love, the tenor saxophone, on this powerful and creative ten-track recording which combines tunes from throughout his career with a top-class rhythm section.

Robinson is celebrating his 60th birthday this year, and is doing so in fine style with this CD focusing on his tenor sax playing. This in itself seems to be remarkable – the man is noted for his collection and performances on unlikely instruments including contrabass banjo and bass marimba, and is prepared to be photographed in a hat made from sax reeds. True to form, the tenor sax in question is no ordinary instrument either; it’s a silver 1924 Conn which Robinson purchased from a Maryland antique shop in 1975 and has been with him ever since.

It transpires that this is Robinson’s first ever all-tenor release, and he has surrounded himself with an excellent band. Pianist and organist Helen Sung has been seen in London as part of the Mingus Big Band in recent years, drummer Dennis Mackrel is a key part of the Vanguard Orchestra which carries on the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis tradition every Monday night in Greenwich Village, and German-born bass player Martin Wind has a long track record, including duets with guitar maestro Philip Catherine.

The CD opens in startling style with a haunting solo rendition of the Beatles’ classic And I Love Her. Robinson bravely starts playing the four-note introduction high up in the altissimo register, showing huge levels of control and skill. He descends to a more normal altitude for the tune, beautifully played with expression and emotion – a real tour de force which grabs our attention for what is to come. The mix of originals and standards which follows is always interesting and entertaining, sometimes familiar and occasionally off-the-wall.

Three of the originals are based on different extents of the blues. Tenor Twelve was first recorded in 1988 and presented here in a rewritten version showing a nicely paced sax solo and some great piano work from Sung. Going numerically down, Tenor Eleven is an 11-bar blues which somehow manages to get to the end a bar early without the listener quite being able to work out how, featuring Coltrane-ish changes, leading into a solo section featuring sax/drum duet space. The title track Tenormore takes things back yet another stage, being a 10-bar blues followed by an indeterminate number of bars from the soloists with plenty more drum action. (Ten-or-more, get it?)

The album also features some enjoyable standards – The Good Life is given a polytonal introduction which does its best to disguise what's coming with Jaws-like bass surges before melting into the melody. The Nearness Of You is a funky number with bass guitar and organ backing and some impassioned playing from Robinson, always in control and yet stretching his sound and tone towards the edge of what’s possible.

The album will be launched with concerts at Birdland in New York on 21/22 June 2019. If you enjoy the idea of an 11-bar blues, then get along there and get this album which is rich in new takes and unexpectedness. And if you’re not sure, then give it a chance – you might well be pleasantly surprised with how well it all works together.

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