London Jazz Festival: Phil Robson

Sam Braysher reviews the Christine Tobin band plus Phil Robson’s IMS Quintet featuring NYC Warne Marsh disciple Mark Turner and London-based US bassist Mike Janisch, Purcell Room, 15 November 2011

Photography © John Watson/

Phil Robson & Mark TurnerIrish singer Christine Tobin opened this evening's concert with a collection of settings of the poetry of W.B. Yeats. With a drummerless quintet creating a floating, dream-like feel, her folky melodies provided the perfect accompaniment for Yeats's earthy verse in this, an early glimpse of her new Road To Byzantium project.

Kate Shortt's cello allowed the band to access a myriad of textures and her written parts were played beautifully.  Liam Noble and Phil Robson on piano and guitar respectively contributed expansive solos and varied comping, while the whole thing was underpinned admirably by the solid double bass of Dave Whitford.

Although an attractive consonance characterised many of Tobin's compositions, things took a turn towards the abstract after a more explicitly rhythmic opening to The Second Coming and, overall, this was an extremely enjoyable start to a well-conceived musical venture.

The second half saw Robson (pictured with Mark Turner, photo by Helena Dornellas) leading his own group, a truly international collaboration with London-based Gareth Lockrane on a range of flutes, New York tenor and soprano saxophonist Mark Turner, Cuban drummer Ernesto Simpson and American expatriate Mike Janisch on double bass.

Based around a general theme of communication, the group has recorded a live album, The Immeasurable Code, on which Robson's compositions reference various methods of human interaction throughout history, from Nassarious Beads (about ancient jewellery) to the self-explanatory Telegram and The Immeasurable Code, which contains a genuine piece of Morse code played by Lockrane on piccolo.

The three principal soloists complement each other well - Robson's slightly harder-edged, fusion-informed sound, Turner with his dark tone, intervallic lines and abstruse patterns, and Lockrane's spectacularly fluid runs - and all marry a superlative instrumental technique with a wealth of ideas.

Simpson and Janisch brought an authoritative freedom to Robson's excellent material, which, although often rhythmically complex, also took in rocky grooves, boppish ensemble sections and Latin passages. Given the geographical locations of its members, this band is not one that will be playing regularly in the UK, so do go and see it if you get the chance.

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