By Paul Acquaro
On Pete Robbins Transatlantic Quartet's "Live in Basel', a refined smoothness masks a turbulent undercurrent. You can feel it as the melodic heads recede and the group delves into dense thickets of improvisation.
Robbins' sax has a strong clean sound and whether he is improvising or playing a composed melody, his lines are sophisticated and accessible. The syncopated and taut rhythms on tracks like 'Eliotsong' are a perfect setting for his intricate and evocative solos. The lines in 'Hoi Polloi' spin around themselves, becoming more entangled until they break into an echoy chordal romp. The percussion's insistent beat pushes the sax to the apex before dropping back into the head, played in unison between the guitar and sax. It's my favorite moment of 'Live in Basel', so tense and precise. That modern jazz guitar sound, the thick, round tone, is a major voice in the group. Whether comping along, providing interesting chordal textures, or his own layered solos, Mikkel Ploug, helps define the album's sound.
Rounding out the Transatlantic Quartet is Simon Jermyn on bass and Kevin Brow on drums. The electric bass sound is punchy and taut and the drumming supports the music perfectly. The musicians in this international combo, which Robbins references in both the name of the group and on the bandstand, compliment each other excellently and play together with precision.
Besides the high quality playing, the songs all seem very well considered and composed. The instrumental voices are well balanced and there is great variety between the songs. It's an album that is growing on me more with each listen, revealing more nuance and texture each time.