Jason Robinson – Ancestral Numbers 1 (ENG review)

Playscape Recordings – Street Date May 14th 2024
Jason Robinson - Ancestral Numbers I

Composer, saxophonist, and flutist Jason Robinson is preparing to release his magnificent album “Ancestral Numbers I,” starting with a beautiful cover that perfectly reflects what you find on the CD. It’s a fusion of culture with a capital “C” and compositions that undoubtedly require some level of artistic education to fully appreciate, as it’s a demanding album whose depth and beauty are revealed track by track. Jason Robinson makes no compromises, as this album is primarily a monumental work of composition. “Ancestral Numbers I” is set to release on May 14th, followed by its sequel “Ancestral Numbers II” on October 18th.

“Ancestral Numbers I” features an extraordinary quintet drawn from Robinson’s largest ensemble, including trombonist Michael Dessen, pianist Joshua White, bassist Drew Gress, and drummer Ches Smith.

The inspiration for “Ancestral Numbers” came from the last gift Robinson received from his maternal grandmother, Ruby Annette Kilbury, who passed away in 2022. Reflecting on his lineage, Robinson discovered that he was the last (and youngest) of a line of elders born when their mothers were just 17 years old. While undoubtedly challenges arose from such young parenthood, he also realized it afforded the rare advantage of firsthand knowledge of multiple generations of his ancestors.

“My grandmother was 34 when I was born,” recalls Robinson. “Growing up, it seemed a bit odd to have such a young mother, just starting her adult life. But at this age, I realize how special it was. My grandmother’s passing triggered me to turn my imaginative musical attention to the idea of lineage – particularly to my ancestors. The project isn’t really about interpreting the sounds of my ancestors. It’s more about making music for them.”

According to Robinson, it’s about maintaining a timeless and purely musical dialogue with his ancestors, with the saxophone predominantly carrying the narrative. Described by The New York Times as “gritty and gleaming,” Jason Robinson’s music is indeed fascinating. Listening to this first installment, one can undoubtedly find traces of collaborations with artists who, like Robinson, are uncompromising in their music. This includes George Lewis, Anthony Davis, Myra Melford, Nicole Mitchell, Amiri Baraka, Toots and the Maytals, Rudresh Mahanthappa, Eugene Chadbourne, Mark Dresser, Gerry Hemingway, Babatunde Lea, and more.

Understanding Robinson’s music is also enhanced by his own reflections on his compositions: “Regarding composition, I learned years ago that I got bored being faithful to rules,” he explains. “My instinct is to live somewhere between Logos and Pathos, which ultimately resembles life. The human experience always seems to exist in this gray area between things you’re supposed to do and things that feel good. In the ancestral recording, all these concepts blend predictably and unpredictably. So, this project tries to reflect my ancestors’ lives in an unpredictable way. It’s truly a love letter to my family.”

This album is undeniably a significant artistic statement, prompting deeper reflection not just on Robinson’s work but also on one’s own creative endeavors. Opening oneself to such complex compositions inevitably leads to various forms of introspection. Undoubtedly, this album is an “essential” that deserves your full attention.

Thierry De Clemensat
USA correspondent – Paris-Move and ABS magazine
Editor in chief Bayou Blue Radio, Bayou Blue News

PARIS-MOVE, May 4th 2024

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