Pete Robbins: siLENT Z Live

The new album from New York-based saxophonist Pete Robbins and siLENT Z is raw and real.

Pete Robbins
siLENT Z Live
(Hate Laugh Music, 2010)

siLENT Z Live was recorded over two dates at the Cornelia Street Cafe in Brooklyn. A New Yorker since 2002, alto saxophonist Pete Robbins leads his group siLENT Z and now releases this album — his fourth as a leader — on his own Hate Laugh Music label.

Featuring his longtime musical collaborators and fellow young New York heavies, siLENT Z Live is a fiery album that brings the listener into the club more than it brings the club into the listener’s speakers. In his liner notes, Darcy James Argue writes, “Great live records have the feeling of bottled lightning…” Indeed, the quintet’s intense and spontaneous creations were captured on two great nights, although you get the feeling that any night would be a great night to catch this band.

Robbins’ compositions — which make up all but the eighth and final piece, a group improvisation — are focused and directed, written for the strengths of his bandmembers and with just enough room for them to do what they will. It walks the line between the chaotically out and the groovy.

Listen to “His Life, For All Its Waywardness:”

[audio:|titles=His Life For All Its Waywardness|artists=Pete Robbins & siLENT Z]

This piece, the second track of the album, is the longest of the bunch. Its variation and its ability to incite interest despite its length and its thematic continuity helps it stand out. First you hear guitarist Mike Gamble alone and effects-ridden, patiently laying out the harmony of the coming melody. Robbins, cornetist Jesse Neuman, and bassist Thomas Morgan enter, and Gamble’s long tones gradually turn to short. The guitar ostinato, sounding almost of Africa, makes room for the melody played by the sax and cornet (doubled in octaves by one of his effects pedals). When drums enter halfway through, Sorey’s beat plays with the odd meter masterfully, somehow blurring the lines between human/natural and robot/mechanical. After a bass solo, Robbins cues the final theme, an arpeggiated herald of sorts. The contrast of the last 60 sections tears you in two and torments your awareness, a layer of sound from the guitar and new tonalities from the cornet against the material with which we’ve become familiar.

Neuman’s cornet + electronics sound on the first half of the album is replaced by pianist Cory Smythe in the second. The introduction of the piano and elimination of the cornet after the group sound — with all its attractiveness — has already been established is perplexing. The piano’s presence never settles in after hearing four tracks with cornet, and its “barely there” level in the mix doesn’t help.

But sometimes that’s part of seeing live music in a club, and for siLENT Z to carry that part of the experience to recording may just be more important than you think. After all, you can be sure of one thing: you will feel like you’re there.

Track list: Edit/Revise; His Life, For All Its Waywardness; Cankers and Medallions; Some Southern Anthem; Bugle Call; Eliotsong; But If It’s Empty; Improvisation.

Personnel: Pete Robbins: alto saxophone; Jesse Neuman: cornet, pedals (1-4); Cory Smythe: piano (5-8); Mike Gamble: guitar, pedals; Thomas Morgan: bass; Tyshawn Sorey: drums.

Purchase siLENT Z Live on Amazon, on iTunes.

Find Pete Robbins on his blogTwitterFacebook and MySpace.

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Dean Christesen

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