Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Scott Robinson's Doc Savage Suite "Bronze Nemesis"

Bronze Nemisis The Scott Robinson Docette:Doctone -01
The multi-instrumentalist Scott Robinson is a first call musician for many of today’s finest and most contemporary of big band ensembles. He has graced the reed section of Maria Schneider’s Orchestra as well as played in the ranks of the Mingus Big Band and as a member of Mel Lewis’s Village Vanguard Orchestra to name just a few.

As a noted collector of rare musical instruments, Scott has made it his mission to preserve these most specialized of artifacts. He has actively learned the intricacies of playing many of these unusual instruments which include the C melody saxophone and the enormous contrabass saxophone, all in an effort to preserve their use in modern music.

On his latest, most unusual, project Bronze Nemisis, Robinson uses his fertile imagination and the pulp fiction character of Doc Savage as his source of musical inspiration. A masterful musical adventure, Robinson’s  spot on use of an arsenal of sounds from his vast array of instrumentation and gadgetry makes, the recording  a theatrical and musical triumph.

Joined in following Robinson’s muse are the pianist Ted Rosenthal, the trumpeter Randy Sandke, the bassist Pat O’Leary, and the drummer Dennis Mackrel.

The “Man of Bronze” starts out ominously enough with thunderous rolling toms and a front line of tenor and trumpet. The large looming presence of the Man of Bronze, arch enemy of evil, is portrayed by Robinson’s clever use of ascending lines using the deeply resonant sounds of his euphonium and bass saxophone and topped off by a bowed bass cadenza by O’Leary that drips with tense anticipation as to what is next.

Robinson's multi-reed facility is essential as he employs the woody tones of the bass clarinet intermingled with Sandke’s trumpet to introduce the next tune. “The Secret in the Sky” is at first a homage to the soundtracks of detective stories from another era, then Robinson’s science fiction brain takes over with his eerie use of the modulating, voice-like sound of the Moog theremin, complimented by little bell noises and some electric harpsichord. He creates this strange unsettling scene; you find yourself facing the unknown, then, suddenly, you are given a brief respite from danger as a more familiar, inviting rhumba-influenced break in the music lures you into a momentary sense of tranquility, only to return to the sounds of lurking treachery that hangs over you  like some unsettling cloak of darkness.
On the ominous sounding “He Could Stop the World” Mackrel’s shimmering cymbals sets the stage as Sandke’s trumpet and Robinson’s overdubbed bass and tenor saxophones climb a wall of intensity, a suitably dramatic entrance for the crazed evil genius that emerges from his secret place in the sky, declaring “If necessary I can stop the world on its axis!’.

Meanwhile back at Doc Savage’s secret “Fortress of Solitude” the fictional hero is pondering his next move. This icy Arctic retreat of Savage’s was later absconded by Superman in the nineteen fifties. The group coolly grooves on this number with a nice jaggedly, obtuse piano solo by Ted Rosenthal and a menacing bass saxophone solo by Robinson that really swings. Robinson handles this large horn without lumbering; instead he floats lightly above the hip groove created by O’Leary, Rosenthal and Mackrel.

“Mad Eyes” is a playful creation that would make a great soundtrack for a Halloween movie. Robinson’s simultaneous use of the slide saxophone and the Moog theremin creating the eeriest of sounds. A gravelly Sandke shows he too can make his horn emit a series of shivering voice-like utterances. Coupled with the groups moaning  this one can that can make you feel like you are truly going mad.

“The Metal Master” is another of Savage’s arch enemies, a mad scientist who has discovered the ability to destroy the molecular integrity of any metal. Leading off appropriately with a Chinese gong and some scraping metal noises, this piece includes a sawtoothed line played by Sandke on trumpet and Robinson on tenor. The tune uses contrapuntal lines between the two horns to lead us on this circuitous path. Robinson’s  tenor voice is boisterous and brash as he navigates the chicane. Sandke’s trumpet is raucous as he climbs on crescendos of notes in the high register with an easy fluidity. The piece ends with a cacophony of clanging tubes, chimes and singing metal plates.

The late Denis Irwin, the original bassist for Scott’s Doctette, is featured on a unaccompanied bass solo from “The Mental Wizard” recorded at a concert from 2001 and is here labeled “The Golden Man.”  Sadly Irwin died two nights before the band went into the studio to record this album.

The “Land of Always Night” is the most moving piece on the album. Rosenthal and Robinson play a wonderful duet that has a  poignant quality with classical grace and soulful sonority. Scott’s sound is pensive and pure, with a breathless, whistling cadenza. The song was taken from his “Lagomorphic Concertino" and was written for his wife Sharon. He should play flute more often.

“The Living Fire” is a musical representation of the living flame within and it sears with Mackrel’s sizzling cymbals, Sandke’s searing trumpet and Scott’s scorching tenor. Too hot to handle.

“The Man Who Shook the Earth” opens with the earth-trembling sounds of the large treme terra, a refrigerator sized drum from Brazil. Robinson uses a wind machine and his own rare contrabass saxophone to create the deep rumbling feel to this musical collage.  After a brief flurry from drummer Mackrel, we are treated to the mind boggling swing of Robinson’s gigantic contrabass. With some brief references to Monk’s “Well You Needn’t” hidden in the deep, blustery low register of Robinson’s solo, it is a rare treat to hear this instrument played with such confident swagger.

The evocative “Weird Valley” features another of Robinson’s rare instruments, in this case the mezzo-soprano saxophone. The snake charming-like sound of this instrument has an air of the exotic and is mildly intoxicating, especially when complimented by the muted trumpet of Sandke. Pianist Ted Rosenthal is given some room to create his own special corridor in this weird valley and he does so with surprise. The two horns joined by the Moog Vanguard theremin raise their level of intensity at the rising coda as they intertwine their sinuous sounds like two mating cobras in ecstatic bliss.

The final piece of this theatrical suite is “The Mental Wizard” a difficult composition, with no repeating parts and a testament to the groups seasoned interplay.

Bronze Nemisis  is a thoroughly enjoyable recording for anyone who wants to transport themselves into another, less complicated world of science fiction and mystery. Emblazoned with authentic Doc Savage images from original illustrator James Bama and packaged with extensive notes on the recording process and instrumentation by Mr. Robinson, this is surely one of the most creative musical offerings of the year.

Scott Robinson, various saxophones, clarinets, flutes, euphonium, Moog theremin, wind machine, bells, chimes   and various instruments/gadgets; Ted Rosenthal, piano and electronic harpsichord; Randy Sandke, trumpet and euphonium; Pat O’Leary,bass; Dennis Mackrel, drums, tubes  and treme terra, Dennis Irwin , bass on track 7.

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