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)

REVIEW: ‘Riser’ – Rob Luft

RobLuft_Riser

GUITARIST Rob Luft packs a lot into his debut, Riser – a quintet release of original music oozing vivacious, sun-kissed creativity. 

Based in London and still in his early twenties, Luft was awarded the 2016 Kenny Wheeler Music Prize whilst, in the same year, also achieving second place in the Montreux Jazz Guitar Competition; and his Big Bad Wolf project’s recent first issue, Pond Life, announced an intelligent approach to composition and performance (despite this album’s title modestly referring to the claim that he’s happier on a stage riser than filling out staves and ledger lines).

A contemporary feel across these fifty minutes reflects the cross-genre interests of a young personnel completed by saxophonist Joe Wright, organist/pianist Joe Webb, bassist Tom McCredie and drummer Corrie Dick. Luft’s guitar distinction is his meticulous technique as colorist, imbuing his music with either a bright, township radiance or becalmed beauty; imaginable hero influences might include Kurt Rosenwinkel, Steve Howe or Steve Hackett as he scampers across the frets in Night Songs, its organ-tremulant vibrancy intimating Weather Report with a Caribbean hook. Beware, full of perky, almost Celtic unison riffs, highlights Luft’s quite astonishing soloing rapidity; and title track Riser is dappled with a rocking-chair guitar quaintness associated with ’70s prog before reaching full-Leslie pop-rocking assuredness.

It’s palpable how many concepts whizz around this quintet, so there’s scant evidence of unnecessarily drawing-out ideas. Different Colours of Silence‘s affecting and serene guitar-and-sax aurora comes to dance energetically to Corrie Dick’s skittering percussion, and the afterglow segue into Dust Settles can’t help eventually whipping up a proud, memorable anthem; yet the constant, meditative, swirling washes of both Blue, White and Dreaming and Slow Potion imply the painterly imagery of soundtrack. There’s fun in the air as bass-grooving Shorty and St. Brian I scream their instrumental chants through honking tenor, wailing guitar, heavily-beaten rhythms and sustained organ; and the Spanish guitar delicacy of extended closer We Are All Slowly Leaving (with immaculate intonation from Luft) accelerates into a dizzying house-beat haze of fluid sax improvisation and searing, clashing guitar clusters.

If these myriad expressions sound at risk of being intangible or incohesive… well, it’s thanks to Rob Luft’s artistic overview that it all actually flows with great continuity, the band’s searching spirit driving the album through swathes of textural interest, warmth and esprit.

Riser? Luft is certainly on that upward trajectory.

Released on 28 July 2017 and available as CD or digital download from Edition Records at Bandcamp.

 

Rob Luft guitar
Joe Wright tenor saxophone
Joe Webb Hammond organ, piano, harmonium
Tom McCredie bass
Corrie Dick drums

robluft.co.uk

Edition Records – EDN1095 (2017)

‘My Iris’ – Trish Clowes

myiris

THE AWAKENING AURORA of Trish Clowes’ new album, My Iris, seems to summon those marvellously intuitive Weather Report conversations between Wayne Shorter and Joe Zawinul. Clowes was privileged to meet the legendary saxophonist; and both the sustained and fleeting subtleties of Hammond organ and guitar which support her soprano in opening number One Hour recall A Silent Way‘s delicate, suspended beauty.

Indeed, Trish Clowes is keen to understand and even draw on the lineage which underpins her development as saxophonist and composer: “It’s not about trying to sound like anything except yourself, but it’s becoming quite important to me to check out where it’s all coming from, because I think that comes out in your writing and in what you choose to play. The more you understand about the past, the better you can understand what you might want to offer to the future.”

As a reviewer, before drawing any conclusions, I place great emphasis on ‘living with’ an album over a period of time until its familiarity then begins to reveal hitherto undiscovered depths; and this has positively proved its worth here. A former BBC Radio 3 New Generation Artist, Clowes revels in the opportunity to write for and play alongside large ensembles – perhaps most notably with the BBC Concert Orchestra in 2014 release Pocket Compass. But in her own quartet line-up with Ross Stanley (piano, Hammond organ), Chris Montague (electric guitar) and James Maddren (drums), there appears to be a vital key which unlocks its magic – and that is a tangible musical intimacy which ensures a thread of free-flowing dialogue throughout the scoring and the improvisation. It can be heard in Clowes’ peekaboo phrases which open Blue Calm, or in the shared, intuitive development of A Cat Called called Behemoth (a perky little number inspired by Mikhail Bulgakov’s novel The Master and Margarita).

Whilst the term ‘chamber jazz’ might be applied to the focus of this album (both the perceived focus of the quartet’s interaction and our reward in engaging with its detail), it also rocks unashamedly. The glorious panic of I Can’t Find My Other Brush (apparently one of Maddren’s!) is redolent of Marius Neset, as Clowes’ tenor sputters and squawks through its restless, skittering percussion; and sticks-and-snare Tap Dance for Baby Dodds (which, in part, refers to early drum pioneer Warren Dodds, but is elaborated upon in the sleeve notes) is unashamedly buoyant, breaking loose to Chris Montague’s string-bent country guitar.

Especially poignant – and part of a shared project with Anglo-Armenian composer/musician Cevanne Horrocks-Hopayian, exploring the subject of forced migration and genocide – is Muted Lines. Clowes’ description of both artists’ individual approaches to this, expressing silence in reductive poetry and music, becomes affecting; and this is reinforced by a slowly pervading darkness painted by Ross Stanley’s Hammond, Montague’s guitar and the intended frailty of Clowes’ own voice (textures akin to the subterranean melancholy of Peter Gabriel). Stanley is a consummate organist and pianist in any environment – but his restrained, haunting contribution here is unexpectedly emotive.

Wistful, hazy country-garden meanderings of In Between the Moss and Ivy are laden with instrumental sensitivity, softly brushed with transitory piano, guitar and soprano fragrances; and rambunctious Be a Glow Worm (Clowes citing “some gnomic advice from my friend Iain Ballamy”) is mischievously bookended with furtive, microtonal tenor ascents and descents.

Immerse yourself in this captivating, wholly accessible, original music. The deeper you travel, the wider your ears (and irises) will be opened.

Released on 13 January 2017, My Iris is available from Basho Records, Jazz CDs and Amazon.

 

Trish Clowes saxophones
Chris Montague electric guitar
Ross Stanley piano, Hammond organ
James Maddren drums

trishclowes.com

Basho Records – SRCD 53-2

‘Together, As One’ – Dinosaur

Dinosaur

THAT MOMENT… when, across the musical landscape, a creative direction comes into view which has the incisiveness to stir a memory, to create the tingling thrill of formative years’ discoveries. Such is the overriding experience of hearing debut album Together, As One from trumpeter/composer Laura Jurd’s quartet, Dinosaur.

Already establishing herself as a popular and hard-working musician on the UK jazz scene – recording/gigging with the likes of Mark Lockheart, Jasper Høiby and Lauren Kinsella, as well as being selected as a BBC Radio 3 New Generation Artist for 2015-17 – Jurd has regularly collaborated with pianist and keyboardist Elliot Galvin, bassist Conor Chaplin and drummer Corrie Dick. So the opportunity to realise this long-dreamt project, in the studio, is clearly of great significance. Here are eight tracks whose 47 minutes suggest that the ambition held by this ensemble might just be the beginning of something far greater in scale, the invention and instrumentation conjuring something of that revelatory buzz of early-mid ’70s fusion or the artsiness of the Canterbury scene.

Although leading on trumpet, Jurd also melds synth with the now-familiar and pleasingly left-field keyboard approach of Elliot Galvin (here on Rhodes and Hammond alone) – so Living, Breathing, for example, is delivered with biting urgency as blisteringly-tongued melodies, high electric bass and crashing percussion are bathed in a haze of sustained keyboard riffs. Galvin’s Rhodes and Chaplin’s bass are magically intertwined in Awakening, a spacial opening number which chimes to the drum precision of Corrie Dick; and Robin‘s jazz-rock-folk blend might easily summon Jethro Tull or Camel, albeit with Jurd’s eloquent tones dancing around as if in some fire-crackling, trippy ritual (the tonal combinations here are a delight, as they similarly are in abstract, distorted, Rhodes/Hammond-led interlude Underdog).

Hinting at the novelty of, say, Django Bates, Steadily Sinking ominously descends into Extinct, a near-ten-minute tremulant Hammond groove built so infectiously by Chaplin and Dick (and somehow redolent of the confident, smouldering, improvised progression heard in late e.s.t.). Continuing the prehistoric theme, Primordial‘s ’60s-pop abandon finds Jurd even hinting at Herb Alpert, as Galvin is given free rein in this glorious, extended psychedelia; and though curious to conclude with an Interlude, its beautiful freedom further demonstrates these four players’ intentions of continually leaping boundaries and traversing uncharted terrains. That’s a prospect which, also for the future, is monstrously exciting – particularly for Jurd, who concludes: “This music now belongs to no-one… I absolutely love it when music does that.”

Released on 16 September 2016, Together, As One is available as CD, LP or high-quality digital download from Bandcamp.

 

Laura Jurd trumpet, synth, compositions
Elliot Galvin Fender Rhodes, Hammond organ
Conor Chaplin electric bass
Corrie Dick drums

laurajurd.com

Edition Records – EDN1078 (2016)

‘Meeting at Night’ – Moonlight Saving Time

MST_300

THE HIGH TINGLE FACTOR created by a significant arrival on the British contemporary jazz scene is always rather special… and very much the case with Bristol-based Moonlight Saving Time.

Taking their name from a quaint 1930s love song favoured by American jazz vocalist/pianist Blossom Dearie, this quintet first demanded my attention a couple of years ago at Manchester Jazz Festival. As they launched into their opening number, from an early five-track EP, there was the sense of a defining moment as the charismatic presence of singer Emily Wright illuminated front-of-stage with her particularly expressive, silken storytelling. Yet this is only part of the story, for MST’s distinction is its ability to combine Wright’s eloquence with a seriously creative team of improvising instrumentalists – trumpeter Nick Malcolm, pianist Dale Hambridge, double bassist Will Harris and drummer Mark Whitlam.

Consequently, debut album Meeting at Night rejoices in an elegant synthesis of memorably original song, fine arrangement and crackling jazz extemporisation – a varietal, near-50-minute sequence which balances emotive atmospheres with sprightly charm. Frequently, the impression is of a gradual unfolding, with musical delights around each corner (rather than gleaning all there is to know inside the first minute), which surely is key to the band’s compelling performance here.

The elegantly flowing, layered vocals of Emily Wright are revealed in bassist Will Harris’s opener Clouds, as it rolls and tumbles to snappy rhythms, bright piano runs and peppy trumpet lines, bringing the swift realisation of a new sound world. Title track Meeting at Night (the words of Robert Browning set to music by Wright and Harris) possesses a delicious vocal and instrumental unpredictability, with Emily Wright’s clear annunciation and theatrical delivery reminiscent of Cleo Laine or Annie Ross; and saxophonist Jason Yarde guests alongside trumpeter Nick Malcolm to infuse the number with improvisational high jinx.

Lush harmonies in Will Harris’s brief Trio introduces the gorgeously lilting Silence is Here – again co-written by Harris and Wright, it shimmers to the purity of that unmistakable voice and the band’s dynamic ebb and flow, including effective multi-layered trumpet textures. One of the album’s surprises is pianist Dale Hambridge’s arrangement of great British composer John Ireland’s Sea Fever which, removed from its original baritone voice setting and offered to Emily Wright, retains all of its strong, evocative yearning. And following, Hambridge’s own Desire for Nothing Known dreamily waltzes to memorable vocal harmonisations and the pianist’s elegant elaborations, Mark Whitlam’s sparky percussion driving it on into greater complexity (and quite unlike anything on the current jazz scene).

Jason Yarde features again in Nick Malcolm’s Views (a sumptuous development of a track from his own album Beyond These Voices), which floats to typically imaginative alto sax; and the tight, wordless vocals of Emily Wright, particularly when fused into sax and trumpet, become redolent of Norma Winstone’s earlier work with Kenny Wheeler. A Calvin Harris song – I’m Not Alone – is pure magic in MST’s hands; with an initial vocal folksiness (accompanied by Will Harris’s gently chordal and percussive accompaniment), it dissolves into the most ravishing, memorable ballad, mirroring the album art’s coastal longing – and thanks to Malcolm’s inventive trumpet, underpinned by Dan Moore’s Hammond and the drum precision of Mark Whitlam, it never descends into mawkishness. From My Window (courtesy of another current songwriting talent, Jamie Doe) shuffles to echoic vocals and Hambridge’s electric piano, embellished by the trumpet’s curious seagull cries; and from the pen of Emily Wright, closing track Arthur’s Dance possesses a sense of joyous journeying, its breeziness suggesting radio-play potential.

A fine recording from a band with a great future, from both compositional and performance perspectives, Meeting at Night is already (in this final quarter of the year) prompting thoughts of the year’s best album releases. Released on 2 October 2015, it’s available in CD and digital formats from Bandcamp, as well as from online retailers and record stores.

 

Emily Wright vocals
Nick Malcolm trumpet
Dale Hambridge piano
Will Harris double bass
Mark Whitlam drums
with
Jason Yarde alto sax
Dan Moore Hammond organ

moonlightsavingtime.co.uk

MSTCD002 (2015)

‘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)