One Track Mind: Scott Robinson Doctette, “Mad Eyes” (2012)

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

—Warning on back cover of Scott Robinson Doctette’s Bronze Nemesis CD.

Halloween is still nearly three weeks away, but it’s hard to forget about it with all the merchandising in full-on saturation mode (and that’s just the warm-up for Christmas right after that…yikes!). I came across a new song the other day that kind of evoked Halloween for me, though it was really meant to evoke pulp novel superhero Doc Savage.

You see, multi-reedist, composer and bandleader Scott Robinson grew up engrossing himself in reprints of those old novels and after an achievement-filled career studying and then quickly afterwards teaching at Berklee before playing in the bands of Lionel Hampton, Buck Clayton and Paquito D’Rivera, Robinson turned that childhood passion into a vehicle for perhaps his most ambitious project yet. For Bronze Nemesis, a set of original modern creative works based on the Doc Savage character, Robinson formed his “Doctette,” with Ted Rosenthal on piano, Randy Sandke on trumpet, Pat O’Leary on bass and Dennis Mackrel on drums. It’s mostly a very dark album, music suitable to play as the soundtrack of a black and white film of the 30s or 40s, the time when Doc Savage was all the rage with young people yearning for an inspiring hero during some trying times.

So what in hell does this have to do with Halloween? Not much at all, really. Except that some of the music on the Bronze Nemesis CD is not just dark, it’s, well, spooky. And that got me thinking: what’s so spooky about rock ‘n’ roll Halloween songs? “Monster Mash” isn’t very scary sounding. Neither is, say, “I Put A Spell On You.” Death metal does sound pretty dangerous, at least until the Cookie Monster opens his mouth.

Avant-garde jazz, on the other hand, that can be pretty frightening stuff. I mean, you’ve got all these dissonant sounds (dissonance is the first order of business for scary music), and unpredictability. Maybe it isn’t shrieking and loud all the time unless we’re talking about Peter Brötzmann, but that sense of foreboding that something real frightening is about to happen can be as chilling as the actual frightening event itself. All that stuff is whack jazz’s stock in trade.

In creating all this audio imagery of the bad super villains that Savage had to battle, Robinson had to make his music villainous, too. That’s especially true of the cut “Mad Eyes.” Robinson describes this composition as depicting the “invasion of the slithering madness.” That moaning sound you hear at the beginning is, surprise, the sound of all five men moaning. And Sandke’s solitary, distressed trumpet signals that something bad is about to happen. But the real disquieting (or parodiable, depending on your attitude) part of the song is when Robinson couples a slide saxophone with a theremin. That is, the sax modulates the pitch for the proto-synthesizer either in the same direction or the opposite direction of the horn. Robinson writes, “This bit of slithering delirium is framed by music which embodies fear and foreboding…the approach of impending madness.” Yep, that sounds like Halloween to me, sans the getting candy part.

As for the warning label, we’d all be well advised to not attempt to try playing this ourselves unless we were pretty damned good musicians. Listening to it is a whole ‘nother story.

Bronze Nemesis goes on sale today, by Doc-Tone Records.

Purchase Bronze Nemesis here.

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S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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