THE THREE MASKED MEN were spotted last year on a visit to one of Phil Robson’s favourite UK haunts – the Players Theatre, Davenham, Cheshire. In its most intimate of surroundings, the guitarist and his colleagues (sans disguise!) entertained a rapt audience with new music destined for this debut organ trio release, The Cut Off Point. Small venue, big vibe.
An influential figure on the British contemporary jazz scene (and one quarter of seminal jazz/rockers Partisans), Phil Robson has long been a fan of the organ trio – and, citing Pat Martino and Wes Montgomery amongst his influences, he has harboured a desire to write and perform in this format. As with any trio, the exposure requires nerve and intuition to ignite the creative spark… oh, and the opportunity to work with seasoned pros – in Robson’s case, here, with Ross Stanley (Hammond organ) and Gene Calderazzo (drums).
The impact of the organ trio is instant. Without bass or piano, it’s the huge physical and audible presence of the Hammond B-3 that takes centre stage – and Ross Stanley’s is as authentic as they come, complete with separate, whirring tone cabinet. Robson and drummer Calderazzo go back many years, especially through their work with Partisans, and therefore have a ready-made connection which is clearly evident.
With seven of the eight tracks penned by Robson, his opener, Thief, reveals the classic organ trio groove – guitar and keyboard melodies deftly gryrating and intertwining, buoyed by Calderazzo’s irresistible, carefully-weighted, toe-tapping rhythms; and with Stanley in charge of pedal-board bass, the organ-and-guitar flexibility of combining or alternating sustained chordal colour with brisk upfront soloing is a great feature, captured particularly well in bustling Second Thoughts. The trio’s retro interpretation of David Liebman’s Dimi and the Blue Men bleeps and echoes in hyperspace before landing on craggy Jeff Beck terrain, Calderazzo particularly eloquent in his snare detail.
Snappy organ and guitar lines are shared in Vintage Vista, its rapid intensity inviting terrific soloing all round (again, its Calderazzo that steals the show – how I’d love to hear that drum track in isolation!). Dedicated to the late Kenny Wheeler, Astral‘s floating, undulating soundworld is redolent of Zawinul’s In a Silent Way and Metheny’s Sirabhorn, whilst pleasingly jarring title track The Cut Off Point buzzes to Robson’s hard-edged, John Scofield-like effects and restless group improvisation. One of Robson’s older, unrecorded tunes, Berlin, swings airily to his light and apparently effortless exploration of the fingerboard; and, to finish, Ming the Merciless deep-grooves to crunchy guitar’n’Hammond chords and infectious bluesy soloing.
As ‘Ratzo’ shouts at the close, “We got an album”. Yep, they sure have!
The Cut Off Point is released by Whirlwind on 18 May 2015 – further information, audio samples and purchasing can be found here.
Phil Robson electric guitar
Ross Stanley Hammond organ
Gene Calderazzo drums
Whirlwind Recordings – WR4672 (2015)