Jim Robitaille has piled up so many awards in such a short amount of time recently that it’s a wonder that his name isn’t better known beyond New England where his education took place and where his career took root. After all, talent like Jacky Terrasson, Joey DeFrancesco and Seamus Blake have moved into jazz careers after placing in the Thelonious Monk competition. Robitaille won first place in the Great American Song Contest for his composition, "Miro," and "Arthur C" placed in the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Composers Competition. Just as intriguing as Robitaille’s writing, though, is his playing, ever in control of his own material and with confident and engaging effect on To Music.
What’s more, he is joined by superb musicians who dig into the material with equal determination and fluidity. Dave Liebman, in particular, adds a distinctive voice to the recording, mostly on soprano sax, that, like all the others on To Music,
merges into, in the end, a single voice attaining the music of Robitaille’s imagination.
Using complex compositional devices, the ease with which the quintet brings to the tunes belies their otherwise difficult nature for performance. "Hypnotic Nights," for example, creates a 6/8 foundation for which pianist Matt Richard and bassist Dave Zinno create an alternative feel by playing "Mission Impossible"-like lines under Robitaille’s and Liebman’s fluid melodic exposition. The waltz "Miro," though slower, paints a portrait of hues of varying intensity and richness as Robitaille uses dynamics for subtle and superb effect, even single notes swelling into a bell-curve-like shapes as the entire chorus builds unsuspectingly in a slow climb before the falloff into relative quietude. Just as fulfilling through the complexity of simplicity is Robitaille’s leisurely acoustic guitar performance of "Adagio," derived from his classical music studies and made successful by his warmth of timbre and the carefully chosen half notes of Zinno’s bass in support of the theme before taking a solo of his own.
Then, perhaps paying tribute to John Scofield’s influence, Robitaille sets up his own jazz jam on "West End Strut," full of sassiness and wailing and winding lines seemingly disconnected from the meter but not really. "Arthur C" emerges as an engaging ballad of medium tempo, certainly a showcase for Liebman as he maximizes the potential of the composition along the lines of "Naima," consisting as it does of descending modulations before settling into the root chord. In Music
is full of equally glittering gems awaiting discovery from the beauty of Robitaille’s creations as uncovered by his quintet. It’s a CD that can be replayed without a loss of interest as new facets come to light that weren’t apparent at the first listen.