"A superband which engendered great expectations, then surpassed them!" By Jon Turney, Bristoljazzlog, Jan 2011. CD release date November 7th, 2011 on Whirlwind recordings ltd....
"But the sensation of the festival was guitarist Phil Robson's Six Strings and the Beat project, for guitar trio and string quartet. This inspired crossover is a real achievement for Robson and should go down among the year's jazz landmarks." John Fordham - The Guardian **** 2008 ...
"Partisans' long expected masterpiece, By Proxy is one of the most exciting albums to be released on either side of the Atlantic in 2009" All about jazz ...
"Jazz that makes you blink in its glare" The Guardian...
"Sexy, gutsy, bluesy and beautiful." Lionel Shriver, author of ‘We Need To Talk About Kevin' on Secret Life of a Girl ...
A superband which engendered great expectations, then surpassed them. No need to say much, as reviews of the first two nights of their short tour, day one caught by LondonJazz, and by John Walters for the Guardian, both convey how special this group is. Robson is a world class guitarist, and composing for and playing with these guys must be a career highlight. Mark Turner is rivetting and drummer Ernesto Simpson a marvel. JLW compared him to Jack DeJohnette, and the comparison is close -something to do with lightness of touch, the cymbal sound, and the way the drums are tuned, as well as a superb, shifting commentary on what everyone else is doing. Michael Janisch on bass played, if possible, even better than on prevous visits to the club – this band just seem to inspire one another, and got better and better as the night went on. If there is a better night of contemporary jazz in the city this year, I’ll be surprised.
They have a few more gigs round the country – and a radio recording at the Vortex for Jazzon3. That’s good to know because this was the sort of multiple virtuoso performance, featuring complex new music, which demands a second hearing. Keen to have a set or two of this for repeat listening…
Normally, this would be the kind of gig which needs a few days to settle, and certainly doesn’t call for more music immediately. But we’re off to hear Richard Thompson at Colston on Saturday. Quite the week for guitar players.
How easily we take some things for granted. Improvising musicians of the quality of Phil Robson's IMS Quintet will invariably give the listener the chance to be present at the very moment of creation. But to attend the first performances of new compositions by this newly-formed band felt like a special privilege.
The event took place, in low-key fashion, in the small second hall of The Stables in Wavendon last night, but the ripples about this project are bound to spread. There are several more performances - including next Monday 24th and Tuesday 25th at the Vortex. BBC's Jazzon3 - good call - will be recording the second night for later broadcast.
I take it as very good news indeeed that there will be a recording. Because Phil Robson's music, on a first hearing, always gives me that feeling I haven't yet heard right the way through it to the other side. Yes, there are moments of beauty, external allure, yes there is variety. But there is also a depth which brings one back wanting to revisit, to hear more and more. Robson as a player always leaves space for the others, and his compositions as improvising vehicles also give room for stories to be unfurled by soloists, for nice surprises to happen through interaction in the moment.
The compositions stretch from a floaty, dreamy ballad called "A Serenade" featuring the intertwined and exquisitely matched voices of Gareth Lockrane on bass flute and Mark Turner on tenor saxophone, to the ferociously polyrhythmic "The Immeasurable Code," - Lockrane on piccolo this time, Turner on soprano - which contains a message in Morse which Phil is not disclosing. The pieces veer from the busy multi-layered waltz "Fire and the Drum" to a lively Billy Strayhorn tribute entitled "The Instant Message." Challenging, fascinating stuff.
Further contrast in each set came from compositions from Gareth Lockrane ("Dark Swinger") and Mark Turner (new/untitled). Lockrane's piece was an uptempo burner, in which one moment stays in my mind. The first soloist was Mark Turner, who started sotto voce and detached, but proceeded to fly, his fascinating lines untrammelled by any technical restrictions. Lockrane looked on, and smiled. The price of the ticket is worth it just to hear Turner play. There cannot be a more completely equipped yet utterly musical saxophone player anywhere in the world.
But Turner also catches the ethos of this band. Maybe there will be more extroversion as the tour develops. What caught last night the ear was the unselfishness of the playing. Drummer Ernesto Simpson has worked with the likes of Arturo Sandoval and Dizzy Gillespie, and clearly has the ability to unleash a tsunami of sound. But last night he was fitting under Mike Janisch 's solos in a way which left that fine, expressive, and yet immaculate bassist all the freedom and space he needed.
Another remarkable feature of the performance was the manner in which this band ends every piece. These five musicians bring astonishing mutual respect and responsibility. Can five members of a band really all simultaneously be first-take perfectionists and completer-finishers? They were
last night.The IMS Quintet is a catch-it-while you can situation. I can only describe this group as unmissable.
Six Strings & The Beat
Phil Robson | Babel (2008)
By Chris May
Surrounded by an animated buzz since its live debut in 2007 at Derby Jazz Week, London-based guitarist Phil Robson's first outing with a string quartet proves to be every bit as exciting as the grapevine promised.
Best known to date for his work with the revved up and riotous Partisans band, which he co-leads with saxophonist Julian Siegel, Robson's credentials as a composer and arranger have already been well established—both with the Partisans, of whose Max (Babel, 2005), for instance, he wrote half the pieces, and under his own name. But the sophistication and inventiveness of his writing for a string quartet still comes as a surprise.
On Six Strings & The Beat, Robson has succeeded, where many have failed, in hard-wiring a string quartet into the jazz music surrounding it. The four players are creative members of the larger band, equals alongside double bassist Peter Herbert, Partisans' drummer Gene Calderazzo and Robson himself. Not only do the strings contribute vibrant riffs and counterpoints, their players also include two compelling improvisers: cellist Kate Shortt and violinist Emma Smith.
Robson acknowledges guitarist Bill Frisell as an influence—along with rock and jazz guitarists including Jimi Hendrix, Pat Martino, Barney Kessel and Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin—and the breadth of Six Strings & The Beat is reminiscent of some of Frisell's recent work with strings. Its sweep may not be as kaleidoscopic as Frisell's double-CD suite, History, Mystery (Nonesuch, 2008), and the project's budget was tiny by comparison, but with its shorter length and leaner personnel, Robson's album has reach and punches well above its weight.
Robson touches down in Mali for the desert blues-informed “Songbird,” on which Shortt's cello evokes the country's kora music; in New Orleans, for “Louisiana,” written in remembrance of Hurricane Katrina and containing some heavily distorted, pain wracked electric guitar; and in Hungary, for the Bela Bartok-inspired “Quick Silver.” Elsewhere he conjures up saxophonist Ornette Coleman's full-tilt abandon on “The Mook,” and dips into Americana on “Hillbleeoos,” on which he alternates between bluesy slide guitar riffs and fast-picked passages derived from bluegrass.
A wonderful album, one of the highlights of British jazz in 2008, and a direction that very much deserves further exploration.
Six Strings & the Beat
Robson, a brilliant straight-ahead guitarist who doesn't let that define him, caused a major critical stir with the live premiere of this music last year. The group, with Robson, Peter Herbert (bass), Gene Calderazzo (drums), string quartet and, on two tracks, singer Christine Tobin, recorded it soon after. Robson cites Bartók, Ornette Coleman, Hendrix, Malian folk and Americana as inspirations, but this doesn't do justice to the richly inventive writing, nor to the deft way the strings (all of whom can improvise) are incorporated into the musical discourse. In a varied yet surprisingly homogenous album there is much to savour: the brusque astringency of Quick Silver , the diverse lines of Rubber Duck , the unity of the written and improvised on Silver Threads and The Mook , and above all Robson's skill in using his resources with rare freshness and imaginative purpose. www.babellabel.co.uk
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