The Spirit Pool by Michael Robinson - textura review

Michael Robinson: The Spirit Pool
Azure Miles Records

There are both similarities and differences between Michael Robinson's latest release, The Spirit Pool, and his recent Lucknow Shimmer and Hummingbird Canyon (Robinson himself has noted a compositional tendency that naturally produces works in related groups of three). Each is a long-form work of approximately forty-two-minutes duration, and in all cases a shuffling pulse and tamboura drone provide an unbroken ground for the wealth of activity that appears as the piece unfolds. Once again using the Meruvina, Robinson produced the wealth of instrument sounds heard in The Spirit Pool, among them trumpet, sitar, kawala, shahnai, udu, furin bell, thumb cymbal, spokes bell, cuicas, drums, shaker, and tamboura.

A seemingly large ensemble of tabla players generates a percussive thrum that tickles the ear throughout, and a small number of melodic motifs, typically voiced by different instrument sounds, repeats at key intervals to establish unity. Despite the work's uninterrupted flow, The Spirit Poolactually presents three sections, and in addition to a pronounced Indian influence, the material also draws upon jazz (in his detailed liner notes, Robinson writes that the material voiced by a trumpet near the end of the work makes reference to the Gershwins' “Fascinating Rhythm” as well as John Coltrane's Interstellar Space). The result is a sensual music whose luscious sonorities dazzle the ear and captivate the mind.

Of course there are aspects that differentiate the three recordings from one another, one of which is the particularly mournful tone of the new release's opening section; however, if there's one thing above all else that separates it from its predecessors, it's the degree of wildness that infuses certain sections. While every one of Robinson's works evidences a carefully considered relationship between the Appollonian and Dionysian, the balance tips more emphatically in the latter's direction when  The Spirit Pool is considered next to Lucknow Shimmer and Hummingbird Canyon.

The opening part of The Spirit Pool is initiated by a series of mournful melodic variations that Robinson accompanies with an energized percussive swarm. Inspired interplay between the Egyptian kawala and Indian shahnai dominates the early going, their utterances leaping from low to high pitches and their expressions ranging from reserved to ecstatic. At the eight-minute mark, the radiant tinkle of a furin bell reiterates the mournful theme phrased by the kawala and the percussive activity swells in intensity. Still, with respect to overall demeanour, the work's opening section is not dramatically unlike that of the two earlier works.

But that begins to change with the onset of section two fourteen minutes into the piece. Brilliant splashes of metallic colour produced by a Japanese kane announce the transition, and its sound illuminates the material even more strongly when swirling glissandos generate an effect that's so arresting the listener experiences something close to vertigo. The second section segues into the third almost surreptitiously, with the playing of a declamatory trumpet the detail signifying the transition. Once again, though, the Dionysian dimension surfaces, this time in the form of swirling treatments that appear just before the thirty-minute mark and uproarious flurries produced by the trumpet throughout the section. Closing the circle, a spokes bell appears to re-state the opening section's theme and draw a connecting thread from the beginning to the end.

Robinson himself acknowledges that The Spirit Pool completes a trinity that includes Lucknow Shimmer and Hummingbird Canyon, which suggests that we perhaps will witness a rather radical change of some kind in the next release. While it's exciting to contemplate what form that might take, for now we've got The Spirit Pool to provide us with no small amount of aural stimulation.

March 2015

textura is a Canadian music publication