Tag Archives: Doc Savage

SCOTT ROBINSON / DOC SAVAGE / “THE SECRET IN THE SKY” / VISIONARY MUSIC

In a world that sometimes seems populated by amiable sleepwalkers, Scott Robinson is vividly alive, his imagination a million-color Crayola box.  His music is fully illuminated; it pulsates with energies.

I’ve delighted in his playing — in person and on record — for more than a decade now.  He has a warm sensibility but is not at all afraid to go out to the edge and make friends with the New, the Sounds Never Heard Before.  What he writes and plays is assertive, surprising — but not angry, not pummeling the listener.

His new project is just extraordinary, and even an Old School Fellow like me finds it compelling.

BRONZE NEMESIS is a suite of original compositions devoted to and depicting the immense presence of Doc Savage, hero of pulp novels of the Thirties.  (Ruby Braff was a devoted fan, too.)  In case all of this is making the more traditionally-minded readers a little nervous, I would point out the players: Randy Sandke, Ted Rosenthal, Pat O’Leary, Dennis Mackrel, and (on one track only) the much-missed Dennis Irwin.  The titles of the twelve compositions may suggest to some that Dorothy Gale and Toto are certainly no longer in Kansas — MAN OF BRONZE / THE SECRET IN THE SKY / HE COULD STOP THE WORLD / FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE / MAD EYES / THE METAL MASTER / THE GOLDEN MAN / LAND OF ALWAYS-NIGHT / THE LIVING FIRE / THE MAN WHO SHOOK THE EARTH / WEIRD VALLEY / THE MENTAL WIZARD.  The music, ah, the music — I hear echoes of beautifully energized weird film soundtrack scoring on the highest level, a touch of Ellington here, a dash of Gil Evans, a sprinkle of Mingus — but these references are paltry, because Scott’s musical world is his own, where wondrously surprising Latin melodies share space with the theremin and the wind machine . . . the overall effect songful as well as avant-garde, always spacious and searching.  I initially felt, “Wow, this is strange . . . isn’t it wonderful?”  The CD shows off compositions and inventions from the musicians and the composer that are unusual but not cold; the suite is filled with a warm energy that takes the listener places he didn’t expect to go . . . without scaring him to death.

Scott’s whimsical legal notice (printed in a tiny rectangle — much the same way we are told to keep these plastic bags away from children) reads:

CAUTION: Contains perilous and daring musical adventures.  Do not attempt.

I’m very glad Scott Robinson exists and has the courage to attempt these adventures . . . so that we can come along on the journey.

Here’s a recent email from Scott: if his words (and the video) don’t woo, entice, and entrance, then something’s wrong.

Hello, fans of adventurous music!

Today, Oct. 12, is the birthday of Lester Dent, creator of the 1930s pulp adventure hero Doc Savage.  Therefore this is the day that Doc-Tone Records officially unleashes BRONZE NEMESIS, the new CD of original music inspired by the amazing worlds of Doc Savage, upon the world.  Performed by the Scott Robinson Doctette, these 12 compositions evoke the mystery and drama of twelve of the original Doc Savage stories, such as The Secret in the Sky, The Man Who Shook the Earth, and Mad Eyes.  Heard in this music are such amazing sounds as a 1954 Moog theremin, slide sax, wind machine, and the mammoth contrabass saxophone.  The CD is packaged in a lavish fold-out wallet with extensive notes, startling photographs and original artwork by Dan Fillipone, all protected by a resealable polybag.  It is endorsed by original Doc Savage paperback cover artist James Bama, whose striking portrait of Doc graces the front cover.

To celebrate the release, and Lester Dent’s birthday, whoever orders the CD TODAY, OCT. 12, from our website, will also receive a small gift. Please visit: www.sciensonic.net/doc-tone

This coming weekend, Oct. 19 and 20, Scott Robinson will be appearing at the 2012 Doc Con near Phoenix, AZ, to speak about the project and even play a little music. Whoever buys the CD there will also receive a gift. http://www.pulpcomingattractions.com/DocCon2012-Newsletter8.pdf

Then, on Wed. Oct. 24, the Doctette will appear live at the Jazz Standard, one of the major jazz venues in New York City.  We are mounting a full-out performance, with all the amazing instruments on hand.  Not to be missed! Shows at 7:30 & 9:30 PM. The Jazz Standard, 116 E 27 St., NYC, www.jazzstandard.com

For a sneak peek at the music, see our new video of The Secret in the Sky at: www.youtube.com/watch?v=rlINGKAoce0

Some notable critical comments:

“This is definitely one of the best recordings of the year regardless of category… must listening.” -Mark S. Tucker, Folk and Acoustic Music Exchange

“An abstractly hard-swinging funhouse-ride… with roots firmly planted in outer and inner space.” -Mark Keresman, Jazz Inside

“Without exaggeration… one of the best jazz concerts I have ever attended.” -Loren Schoenberg, Jazz UK

“An out-of-the-box triumph of imagination and musicality… inspired.” -Peter Hum, Ottawa Citizen

“Thoroughly unique music from one of jazz’ most questingly eclectic and wide-ranging talents.” -George Kanzler, New York City Jazz Record

“Loved your music… great jazz. I was most flattered to have a musician of Scott Robinson’s stature compose wonderful jazz for my Doc Savage covers.” -James Bama, original cover artist for Doc Savage paperback editions.

Doc Savage is copyright and TM Conde Nast.  All rights reserved.  Reprinted with permission.

Sadly, I won’t be able to be at the October 24 performance — which pains me — because I will be at the Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party.  So . . . mark it down, make plans, get yourself there.  I have been fascinated and moved by the CD and am sure that the effects of the music / presentation in person will be even more deliciously powerful.

And there’s a resealable polybag too!  All our needs satisfied.

May your happiness increase. 

MARTY GROSZ’S BASS MOTIVES at CHAUTAUQUA (Sept. 18, 2010)

My flippant title is not completely irrelevant.

For starters, at jazz clubs and parties and festivals, there are performances ranging from humdrum to spectacular.  And — not very often — there are performances that viewers and listeners know they won’t ever forget. 

I take great pride in presenting one such episode: around four minutes long, quietly rocking rather than explosive, and performed before noon — an unseemly time of day for most jazz musicians.

The band was officially titled Marty Grosz and “The Mouldy Figs,” referring to those rather artificial wars between musical ideologies stirred up by jazz critics and fans in the Forties and Fifties.  A “Mouldy Fig” read Rudi Blesh rather than Barry Ulanov or Leonard Feather, revered Bunk Johnson rather than Fats Navarro.  Figs deplored “be-bop,” horn-rimmed glasses, and berets.

Since Marty Grosz has displayed a serious leaning towards band-names no one has thought of before (his Hot Puppies, his Orphan Newsboys, and so on) I have taken the liberty of renaming the band — for this performance only “Bass Motives.”  Why?  Well, there’s Arnie Kinsella on drums — someone who knows how to make a particular point with a ferocious hit to his bass drum; Andy Stein, usually playing violin but here picking up his baritone sax; Vince Giordano, bass saxophonist supreme; Scott Robinson, the Doc Savage of the instrument room, also playing bass saxophone. 

The tune they launch into is the pretty old Eddie Cantor tribute to his wife, Ida — IDA (SWEET AS APPLE CIDER).  But behind Eddie and Ida and their family is the far more serious presence of Red Nichols and his Five Pennies in the Brunswick studios in 1927 — the Pennies including Pee Wee Russell and Adrian Rollini, perhaps the finest bass saxophonist ever, ever.  And one of the songs they took on was a moving ballad-tempo version of IDA. 

Marty and his Bass Motives not only evoke that lovely recording but sing out in their own style.  When I wrote that some rare performances are unforgettable, I wasn’t over-praising this one:

Incidentally, for the chroniclers in the audience: Frank Trumbauer and Bix Beiderbecke have received a good deal of well-earned praise for their imperishable recordings in early 1927 of two “jazz ballads,” that is, improvisation carried out at a medium-slow tempo: SINGIN’ THE BLUES and I’M COMIN’ VIRGINIA (with a sweet reading of ‘WAY DOWN YONDER IN NEW ORLEANS not far behind).  The original Nichols recording — in August of that same year — seems deeply emotionally influenced by the pretty playing of Bix and Tram.

“JAZZ FUTURIST, MAD SCIENTIST”: SCOTT ROBINSON in the WALL STREET JOURNAL!

Thanks to the tireless Will Friedwald, we have this wonderful portrait and juxtaposition of two unlikely spheres —

‘What planet did this guy come from?” That was how Benny Goodman reacted when he heard the legendary cornetist Bix Beiderbecke for the first time. Trumpeter Randy Sandke has been known to use the same line to introduce the multi-instrumentalist Scott Robinson.

Although Beiderbecke’s music has a certain futuristic quality to it, Mr. Robinson is even more aptly compared to an otherworldly visitor. There’s no one else doing anything close to what Mr. Robinson is doing: playing every style that exists in the jazz world (and classical, pop and world music besides), on almost every horn known to man (reeds, brass) and even some rhythm instruments. He is the only musician I have encountered who is equally likely to play clarinet in a re-creation of the music of Sidney Bechet on a Monday, and then turn up on Tuesday playing tenor saxophone with a swing-era big band. On the next night, you might spot him playing baritone in the sax section of a contemporary orchestral jazz composer; then on Thursday, he’ll bring out his really far-out horns for an outerspace jam with musicians from the Sun Ra Arkestra.

[ccrobinson] Ken Fallin

During a concert earlier this year at the Riverdale YM-YWHA in Bronx, N.Y., Mr. Robinson played cornet alongside two trumpets (Mr. Sandke and Jon-Erik Kellso) in a harmonized transcription of Beiderbecke’s classic solo to “At the Jazz Band Ball.” In “Waiting at the End of the Road,” Mr. Robinson and co-leader Dan Levinson crossed swords on two C-melody saxophones. And throughout the evening, Mr. Robinson also held down the bottom of the ensemble on another horn rarely heard since the 1920s—the bass saxophone, which gave the group a vigorous two-four rhythmic push that bands without a horn bass simply don’t have.

This week, Mr. Robinson plays with the legendary Bob Brookmeyer as part of “East Coast Sounds,” as presented by the L.A. Jazz Institute.

At his home in Teaneck, N.J., Mr. Robinson recently told me, “I’ve had so many comfortable years being everybody’s sideman, in every style, and I’m still going to keep doing that.” But after playing on more than 200 albums mostly for other people, he now wants to devote more time to pursuing his own musical visions. “I think of music as a big world that you can go into and never come back out of. It’s endless, and it’s filled with endless rooms and funny doors and branches that go off like caves.” Mr. Robinson has released four highly eclectic albums for Arbors Jazz and was determined to start his own label, “ScienSonic Laboratories,” by the time he turned 50; the label launch occurred earlier this year, a few weeks before his 51st birthday.

Born in New Jersey and raised in a farmhouse in Virginia, Mr. Robinson was encouraged to play jazz by a father who collected old records, a mother who taught piano, and an older brother, Dave, who plays traditional jazz cornet. He read a children’s book about a geeky kid who “found himself” by playing the saxophone, which inspired him to start studying that instrument, especially when he discovered that his high school had a bass sax that no one had touched for 50 years. Later, he bought a beat-up trumpet for $3 and taught himself to play that as well. “My home base,” he insists, however, “is the tenor sax, which is a whole musical universe unto itself.”

The same can be said of Mr. Robinson’s “laboratory,” a converted garage behind his house, where he stores his working instruments; thousands of additional parts and incomplete horns are stashed in his basement. Lanky, bearded and bespectacled, Mr. Robinson plays up the idea of looking and acting like a mad scientist of jazz; he has a custom lab coat that he wears to his own gigs, and hands out specially made test tubes as souvenirs. Although comfortable in the jazz past, his own ScienSonic projects are distinctly futuristic and avant-garde, starting with the album covers, which use paintings from ’50s science-fiction paperbacks by the late Richard Powers.

Scott Robinson’s collection of musical oddities includes variations on the saxophone, a couple of theramins, and a marimba set once used by Sun Ra’s Arkestra. When he plays music, his genre of jazz is equally eclectic.

The centerpiece of his collection is the contrabass saxophone, one of only 16 or so believed to exist, a seven-foot monster of a horn. Mr. Robinson discovered it in a secondhand-furniture store in Rome about 15 years ago, and it took more than two years to convince the owner to part with it. It was worth the effort: The contra produces a beautiful roar that might be likened to the love dance of a pair of happy hippopotami but is like nothing else in the human world. Then there’s the normaphone, an utterly Martian device invented in Germany that seems to be a saxophone, a trumpet, a trombone and bicycle pump all at once. Wildest of all is the slide saxophone, in which the pitches are controlled by a slide instead of keys and pads. Mr. Robinson once brought the slide sax over to the home of Ornette Coleman—godfather of all musical experimentalists—who somehow managed to play it in tune. The sound it produces is rather like the hybrid of a sax and a theremin.

Along with the giant saxophone, Mr. Robinson has stuffed his garage with what looks like King Kong’s rhythm section: a bass marimba (the very same one used by Sun Ra on his famous “Heliocentric Worlds” album) that you have to climb a ladder to play; a 180-pound Chinese ceremonial drum; a 7-foot banjo; and what looks like a 9-foot conga from the Philippines. At the opposite end of the spectrum, he also plays teeny-tiny devices like the sopranino sax and the indescribable octavin; there’s also the sarrusophone (played on one famous recording by Bechet), which looks like a brass-band marching instrument but uses a bassoon-like reed.

Only a handful of these implements are brought to bear on the first ScienSonic release, “Live at Space Farm,” a facility that is itself a unique hybrid of zoo and museum in Sussex, N.J. (whose exhibitions include a giant stuffed bear, once the largest in captivity, big enough to play the contrabass). The music is a completely free-form piece improvised by Mr. Robinson and a quartet co-starring saxophonist Marshall Allen, current leader of the Sun Ra Arkestra. Recorded in a bell tower in the middle of a cow pasture, the last note of the work was spontaneously provided by an obliging bull.

Meanwhile, a firm in Brazil is building Mr. Robinson the world’s first subcontrabass saxophone, which promises to be the biggest and lowest sax in history. The saxophonist also looks with a mischievous glint in his eye at his slide soprano: “If only I could get one of these on a bass sax,” he says.