I asked Lou Grassi (1947, Summit, NJ) how this group came to exist. He said that he thought it would be great to get together Herb Robertson (1951, Plainfield, NJ) and Rob Brown (1962, Hampton, VA). Lou's feelings germinated from a comment made months earlier by Herb who had said to Lou that he felt he would be a good pairing with Rob. Ken Filiano (1952, Patchogue, NY) was then brought in. (It could be argued that Ken would be a good dynamic combination with just about any creative force.) The situation was felt out, rehearsals made, and the idea pitched to me.
My reaction to this pairing was not that I could immediately hear it work but, more than that, how could it not work? By work, I'm not thinking a comfortable mix or fit of 4 players into a quartet to produce nice comfortable music. Instead, I'm thinking 4 edgy players who push and challenge themselves and (by necessity) those in their vicinity into a symbiotic dynamic of powerful and challenging music of substance for satisfying listening.
Ken first played in The Spirit Room sometime in 1991 and did his first CIMP session, a duo with Vinny Golia (#111) in 1996. Rob's first CIMP was in 1997 (#144) on which he joined Lou on Bruce Eisenbeil's debut, and then a bit later, co-leading a quartet with Lou (CIMP 161). Prior to that I had helped produce Rob's 1988 debut (a duo with Matt Shipp) on Cadence Jazz Records (1037).
Herb made his first CIMP in 1996 (#110) and was the original trumpeter in Lou's PoBand (Cadence Jazz Records 1062, CIMP 156).
Lou's first CIMP session also goes back to 1996 (#116) when, along with Ken and Roswell Rudd, he made up Steve Swell's Quartet. Since then, Lou has assisted andled many of CIMP's successes.
As a result of having worked previously with everyone in this group, I had every confidence that it was not a question of whether or not they could make the (CIMP) grade, but a matter of getting out of the way and facilitating the situation to foster their best and then picking the best of their best. With this in mind we galloped ahead, not knowing what to expect but expecting great things.
The group rolled in on the early afternoon of June 8th, following an appearance at the Rochester Jazz Fest the night before. They set up, did a sound check, worked out somestrategies, and seemed to pick up an extension from the previous night's work.
They opened with Herb's multi-sectional composition Squatting Women, with Ken setting a wonderfully challenging pace in his bass intro. In trying to capture Ken's desired sound during the sound check, it was decided to close the large wooden doors to The Spirit Room. This cut off a welcome breeze on an 80°F plus day, but it gave us the acoustic picture that Ken wanted. This is not our normal configuration and, in cutting off the breeze in one location, it swung open a door in another location, creating a squeak that you might detect during Ken's solo intro.
The next piece was delayed for 3 hours after the group learned food was ready. Ken commented something about never keep the cook waiting, preceded, by seconds, the rush to the dinner table. Following dinner, while Lou and Herb napped, Rob took asmall hike and Ken engaged in one of the 4 things he appears to like best (including playing and eating): talking. After everyone reconvened, they opened with Dancing Shadows, notable for, among other things, some odd tones from Rob followed by an exciting trumpet solo; classic Herb. Then Lou calledfor his "hit," Ballad of 9/11, a piece he debuted on CIMP (278).
Take one of 9/11 was less than stellar and the group went on to Rob's searingly plaintive ballad, Underground Elevation, a moving work further inscribed by an inspired solo from its composer, nicely dovetailed by a muted Herb dialogue with himself before he passed it over to the rhythm and a re-address of the theme.
After a break, they regrouped with Willie B., opening with horns sans rhythm, it evolves into a whirlwind of activity and a strong display from the formidable front line of Brown and Robertson and a feature for Lou's rolling drums.
Another break and the group then addressed Rob's Lake George, on which Herb forces the listener to focus on his purposely understated muted pocket trumpet dynamic, nicely contrasted by one of Rob's most fluid solos, before turning it over to the rhythm.
Approaching theend of a night's work and a concert CD, Lou called for Avanti Galoppi, a bit of an Old World melody over a familiar Grassi drum pattern which opens up into a nice free exchange between the horns while Ken plays counterpoint to the whole.
One last break and then they did a retake of Ballad of 9/11.This time the attack was more minimalist and colored by the electronic gizmos of Ken's bass. It opens with a dawning quality, slow and unhurried before rhythm, tempo, and sound draw together in a coordinated energy. It's a strong statement, reflective of the talents of the quartet, the sense offinish of the concert, and a night's work. And the beginning of a lasting listening experience.
Robert D. Rusch - June 8, 2004