Review of Perry Robinson Quartet at the Knitting Factory

by Matthew Snyder
December 29, 1995

Last night (Thursday, December 28, 1995), master clarinetist Perry Robinson and his Quartet played the Knitting Factory in TriBeca, the group's first American gig in some five years. I have long wanted to see this group live, having heard them on record, and rejoiced when I learned that they would be doing two sets at the Factory.

The group consists of Perry, who in my opinion is playing better than he ever has before, virtuoso Russian pianist Simon Nabatov, bassist Ed Schuller, and German drummer Ernst Bier. They played mostly Perry's music, spanning material from as far back as the early 60's up to tunes from the Quartet's 1990 (and most recent) CD Call To The Stars. Some of the music was melodic and beautiful, some of it funky, some of it made you think you were hanging out in a 70's loft. But it was all undeniably Perry Robinson.

I have heard Perry blow incredibly on many occasions, but this performance was transcendent. The Quartet was part of it (having monster players behind you always helps), but Perry himself was just brilliant, group or no group. His Miles-esque knack for picking the strangest possible notes and making them the RIGHT ones never ceases to amaze. And his sound, by turns soft, screaming, beautiful, ironic, and humorous, defined its own universe. And when Perry finished soloing, along came Simon Nabatov to blow everyone's minds! This cat has a happening career in Europe, but SOMEBODY in the U.S. has to sign him, because he could cut probably 90% of all "name" pianists. And he does classical too!

But it always came back to Perry. He's one of the world's best kept secrets among those who are converts. Unfortunately, his eclecticism and the difficulty of putting him in a hole confuses writers (and some listeners). Those who are willing to hear Perry will discover worlds they hadn't supposed existed.

I've seen a lot of great music this year, from Jackie McLean to James Carter (twice) to Bobby Hutcherson to McCoy Tyner to Keith Jarrett to Ben Riley to Terence Blanchard and many others. The Perry Robinson Quartet was the gig of the year, perhaps of the last 5 years!

Matt Snyder