Phil Robson

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24/01/2008 Chris Parker

Phil Robson Quartet
featuring Dave Liebman
Thursday 24 January

Another full house greeted guitarist Phil Robson, US saxophonist Dave Liebman, bassist Aidan O'Donnell and drummer Jeff Williams as they began their two-night residence at the club, prior to a brief UK tour.

Robson's status as one of the UK's most versatile and accomplished guitarists à he is as adept at fitting in with mainstream outfits, such as the BBC Big Band, as he is at spearheading the pungent jazz-rock fusion of Partisans à is too familiar to Vortex audiences to merit rehearsal here, and the band's music was clearly shaped (and frequently composed) by him, but a brief look at the beginning of Liebman's career also helps explain the quartet's considerable range and scope.

In 1970, he was in a rock group, 10 Wheel Drive, then with Elvin Jones and Miles Davis, before he formed Lookout Farm, with Williams on drums, Richie Beirach on keyboards, Frank Tusa on bass and Badal Roy on percussion. About this last band, he commented: 'I hear New York and I hear the Caribbean. Then, of course, I hear some Middle East stuff Í and the East Indian with Badal. Then there's the African influence Í it's a world music.'

Such an open-eared approach made him the perfect partner for Robson, and many of the musical bases mentioned above were touched during the evening, but if this makes the music sound contrived, it's misleading: the overall impression created by it was one of passionate spontaneity.

Whether they were playing Robson's tricksy but punchy originals (they concluded their first set with his 'Screen Wash'), 'East Indian'-influenced music with Liebman on flute and soprano, or a Liebman arrangement of Jerome Kern's sumptuous, almost operatic ballad 'Dearly Beloved', the accent was firmly on informal interactiveness and imaginative creativity.

Robson's solos were à as ever à skilfully tailored to their various musical contexts, his blistering single-note runs interspersed with swooning chords and rougher-textured passages; Liebman's tenor excursions mixed his characteristic abrasive, vocalised urgency with quieter moments, and his soprano playing was, as always, cogent and characterful.

Full-bloodedly propelled by O'Donnell and Williams, this was gutsy, pleasingly unpredictable but consistently distinguished music.


11/07/0008 JACK MASSARIK

Six Strings & The Beat (Babel)
Jazz and strings make uneasy bedfellows but guitarist Phil Robson avoids the usual pitfalls with this sparkling suite for viola, three violins, cellist Kate Shortt and Austrian double-bass maestro Peter Herbert. Boosted by Gene Calderazzo's propulsive drumming, his 10 original pieces stay strong, forsaking syrupy sweetness in favour of nimble bluegrass, grungy punk, supple straight-ahead swing and two unsentimental ballads, gracefully sung by Christine Tobin. This is innovative music, performed with crisp precision and rhythmic elan, and it's a substantial achievement by a fine player who has not hitherto been particularly noted for his writing.
JACK MASSARIK - Evening Standard


30/06/0008 Chris May - 'All about Jazz'

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


27/06/0008 RAY COMISKEY 'Irish Times'

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


09/05/0008 John Fordham

John Fordham
Friday May 9, 2008
The Guardian - ****

This is the jazz-and-classical-strings venture set up in Phil Robson's home town of Derby, and launched at the Derby Jazz Week festival last year. Robson is a fascinating UK one-off: a guitarist with an explicitly pre-Hendrix/McLaughlin/Scofield devotion to straightahead jazz swing (which qualifies him for the BBC Big Band), but whose curiosity runs much wider. His reputation is international: he has worked with former Miles Davis musicians such as drummer Billy Hart and saxophonist Dave Liebman.
String quartets are often consigned to classy riff-playing in jazz, but the four women in Robson's project (particularly cellist Kate Short) all improvise and converse with the jazz players (Robson, bass virtuoso Peter Herbert and drums firebrand Gene Calderazzo), and the ideas touch on Bartók quartets, Mahavishnu Orchestra-like dramatic hooks and ingeniously fluent bop guitar that even Barney Kessel fans could relate to. The album doesn't entirely sustain the melodic fizz of its early tracks, but the insistent motifs of Rubber Duck, the rapturous atonality of Quicksilver, the slowly winding melody of Wishing Well(with Christine Tobin's voice), the ecstatic whirl of The Mook and the sparse rock electronics rising out of a sighing-strings dreamscape on Lousiana amount to a hot contender among European releases for 2008.


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