The United States recently experienced a 'first': the clarinettist Perry Robinson and his Quartet played a short tour, doing several gigs in New York (including a showcasing appearance at the 'Vision Festival'), one in Philadelphia and a stellar performance at the venerable 'Deer Head Inn' by the Delaware Water Gap, Pennsylvania.
The group, featuring drummer Ernst Bier of Berlin, bassist Ed Schuller, and the pianist Christoph Adams, had never done this many dates at a time in the states. It has toured Europe with some regularity in the years since the band's formation in 1984, but it had been over four years since their last stateside engagement ('The Knitting Factory', New York, 1995). Robinson and his band arrived somewhat reborn.
After over ten years in the quartet, the great Russian pianist Simon Nabatov went on to pursue his own career and was replaced recently by Adams, who has played in trio with Schuller and Bier for quite a while, making him the logical replacement (the three recorded under the pianist's name). Adams is restrained and thoughtful where Nabatov was thunderous and expressionistic, creating new contrasts and moods in the band's sound, but he also adds new dimensions to the music of leader Robinson through his vocals. Robinson was excited to provide Adams with old lyrics he had forgotten about for his composition "The Traveler" (from a 1977 release), and the group's intense yet pastoral delivery of the tune was a highlight of all their performances.
Bassist Schuller has also come to the fore somewhat since Nabatov's departure. Now the most musically outspoken member of the band, his manic energy and virtuosic musicianship are a foil for the more polite musings of Robinson and Adams. Ernst Bier, caught in the middle, balances these conflicting impulses with ease. He and Robinson have known each other since the early 1970's and have a strong connection, while the rhythm section reads each other easily after their years of work together as a trio. Above it all floats Robinson, still the 'sui generis' master of his own idiom. Nobody else has a clarinet sound remotely resembling Perry Robinson's, and his choice of tones can surprise even longtime listeners to delight them anew. His songbook, a masterful blend of about 30 old and new originals and the odd Henry Grimes composition, creates a memorable vibe when performed by this group of sympathetic musicians.
Robinson's music has taken many forms over the course of his long career, but even he admits his group has reached a new peak of creativity and originality. The new lineup recently completed a recording and presented the new material on the stateside gigs. They received an enthusiastic response from audiences, particularly at the 'Vision Festival' and the 'Deer Head' (the club made the Quartet one their featured visitors for the month of June). Robinson has, of course, remained in listeners' memories from his extensive activities throughout his career (Two Generations of Brubeck, Gunter Hampel, and his own 'Licorice Factory' productions of the 1980's, for example), but his Quartet, too rarely heard on the left side of the Atlantic, was a revelation to East Coast fans who were barely aware of its existence.
The band plans to play again in Germany this autumn and hopes to release the new recording later this year.
CD: Perry Robinson Quartet - "Nightmare Island" (LP/CD, ITM-Westwind,
CD: Perry Robinson Quartet - Call To The Stars" (CD, ITM-Westwind, 1990)
Foto: Lars Reimann