REVIEW: ‘Life is the Dancer’ – Rob Luft

THE CONCEPT that ‘you don’t live your life but life lives you’ (quoted from Eckhart Tolle’s book The Power of Now) is behind Rob Luft’s sophomore album as leader, and aptly describes a characteristically joyful and optimistic approach heralded in 2017’s debut, Riser.

At this relatively early stage of his career, Luft is already forging a style all of his own which certainly amounts to more than his simple ‘guitar’ credit – a many-hued sound world and technique with a distinct, bubbling, aqueous attraction. His prowess as leader, composer and prolific sideman has placed him on the current roster of BBC Radio 3 New Generation Artists, and a key role in Big Bad Wolf (a real crowd-puller at Manchester Jazz Festival) produced their feel-good release, Pond Life. More recently, he is prominent in the line-up of trumpeter Byron Wallen’s Portrait recording and has shown a natural affinity for improvising over the jazz and gamelan-inspired auras of multi-instrumentalist Felix Jay’s 3CD album Trio.

For Life is the Dancer – a programme of mostly self-penned material – Luft’s quintet again comprises tenorist Joe Wright, organist/pianist Joe Webb, bassist Tom McCredie and drummer Corrie Dick, with Byron Wallen and vocalist Luna Cohen guesting. Heard recently in conversation with Jess Gillam at BBC Radio 3, the guitarist’s warm personality and eclectic musical interests clearly shine through both his playing and interactions with others. Such vibrant, dance-imbued, sun-soaked strains are a welcome tonic in our uncertain times; and he’s unquestionably a groover, as Anders Christensen’s Berlin immediately signals through its pulsating, increasingly rock-driven progression.

It’s easy to fall under the spell of Luft’s writing and his band’s interpretations, the vocal-enhanced title track evoking the balmy, summertime haze of Sergio Mendes and Pat Metheny/Lyle Mays. The album thrives on the rapid, electronic-suggested (though entirely acoustic) rhythms of Corrie Dick and Tom McCredie’s fluent bass – ‘fast city’ fervour in One Day in Romentino is a prime example as Joe Wright’s tenor screeches above Luft’s pointillistic decoration. Co-written with Enzo Zirilli, Synesthesia pulls off audaciously tricky ‘push-pull’ time signatures, enough to raise a smile each time, amidst its rapturous energy; and the countryfied soul-blues of Sad Stars, accentuated by Joe Webb’s Hammond, is beautifully blithesome. Rob Luft’s message that “the past is in your head and the present is in your hands” is captured in the closing, gentle ebb of Expect the Unexpected, elevated by wordless chorus, muted trumpet and the never-failing bliss of those mellifluous guitar improvisations. 

Dance, smile and enjoy, you will.

Life is the Dancer is released on 17 April 2020 and available as CD, vinyl or digital download at Bandcamp.

 

Rob Luft guitar
Joe Wright tenor saxophone
Joe Webb Hammond organ, piano
Tom McCredie bass
Corrie Dick drums
with
Byron Wallen trumpet
Luna Cohen vocals

robluft.co.uk

Edition Records – EDN1152 (2020)

‘The Cut Off Point’ – Phil Robson

PhilRobson

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

philrobson.net

Whirlwind Recordings – WR4672 (2015)