November 27, 2021
Prismatist - Robbie Lee
Label: Relative Pitch Records (bandcamp)
Catalog #: RPRSS009
Location: New York, United States
Release Date: November 5, 2021
Media: cd or digital download
As a preliminary disclaimer, in this review of a sopranino saxophone record, there will be no comparison to Steve Lacy nor any other saxophonist. As with any listeners, the minds of the staff of the Poison Pie Publishing House are filled with fragments of music heard long ago and thought forgotten. The introduction of new music may dislodge some of these old musical memories in a manner that is connected equally to the characteristics of the new music as well as the unique listening history of the one investigating it. These associations between old and new don't have any special significance but can be used as references for purposes of oblique description in wandering reviews of this kind.
In the track, true tone, the squealing transition from saxophone into tuning fork, called to mind the polyphony created by Keiji Haino on a hurdy gurdy found in any one of the half dozen or so solo records featuring that instrument. Should the suggestion have been aired beforehand that the combination of saxophone and tuning fork would be reminiscient of a hurdy gurdy, we would not have been able to hear it in our imagination but we like to think of ourselves as open-eared, so we may have admitted that the possibility could come to pass under the care of a musician exploring untrodden musical terrain.
Notes indicate that Prismatist was created "in an empty house on July 4, 2018". There is a notion of unconstrained freedom in home recordings, where the only audience whom the performers have to satisfy is themselves. As for the technical details of the sound recording, whereas some home recordings embrace an intentionally low-fidelity sound, the recording quality of Prismatist is impeccable, capturing the decay of each note from the both reed instrument and tuning fork as it lingers in the air of the empty house.
We also note that within the Relative Pitch catalog, there are recordings (listen for example to Stereo Trumpet (2015) by Birgit Ulher & Leonel Kaplan), where there is the unmistakable intent of the artists to utilize an instrument in an unconventional way, often rendering the original instrument unrecognizable. This is not the case with Prismatist, which embraces the sound of the sopranino saxophone and, almost as an afterthought ventures into territory where it takes on an unusual or exotic sound.
Finally, we note that our previous exposure to Robbie Lee was limited to Seed Triangular (New Amsterdam Records, 2018), a duet with guitarist Mary Halvorson. (The track, Seven of Strong, from that album is on our regular playlist for when we need a pick-me-up.) Prismatist is a wholly different creature than Seed Triangular but also contains tracks that compel the listener to listen again and again.