Romance Among the Fishes

Artist: Liam Noble

Date of Release: 17/10/2005

Catalogue no: SRCD13-2

Label: Basho

Price: £7.99

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Track Listing







Jitters (Noble)




Therapy (Noble)




Enchante (Noble)




Bunker (Noble)




A Broken Dream (Noble/Rainey)




Bluebear (Noble)




Where do they go (Gress/Noble)




Regular Intervals (Noble)




The Butterflies (Robson/Noble)




Romance Among the Fishes (Noble)






Appearances by

Phil Robson

Liam Noble piano, Phil Robson guitar, Drew Gress bass, Tom Rainey drums

“Romance Among the Fishes”, recorded in New York in August 2004, came out of a commission for the 2004 Cheltenham Jazz Festival. The music demonstrates Liam Noble’s highly original approach to composition in a suite which was written specifically for the players featured on the album. Tom Rainey’s highly original percussive style and Drew Gress’s virtuosic and responsive bass playing were Liam’s inspiration for the work. With his long-term associate guitarist Phil Robson, whose versatility complements Liam’s inventiveness as an improvising pianist, the quartet have created pieces that demonstrate a strong musical empathy between players whose backgrounds and influences are very diverse. The music has developed a style and energy of its own since its original airing at the Cheltenham Festival




23/10/2006 David Kane, Cadence Magazine

Liam Noble’s latest CD demonstrates that there is still something new under the Jazz sun. The British pianist has put together an excellent band for this recording: fellow Brit guitarist, Robson and the crack U.S. rhythm team of Gress and Rainey. And quite a cohesive lineup it is too, despite the fact that the U.S. players are not normally part of Noble’s working group. That was the first of several pleasant surprises in this fine set of originals. A second surprise was the easy manner in which Noble and Robson interact with each other without any mutual interference—not an easy thing to achieve when pianists and guitarists work together. Robson is an excellent stylistic match for Noble and they share a similar sense of space and a common melodic vocabulary. Gress and Rainey fill both strong supportive and soloistic roles and demonstrate why they are such sought after session players on the NYC creative music scene and elsewhere. Noble’s playing deserves special praise for its logic, clarity, restraint, and invention. His carefully considered phrases call to mind a sort of avantgarde Bill Evans, free of cliché, and quite original in conception. No less noteworthy are his compositions that, despite the relatively short running time of the CD, manage to pack quite a number of striking ideas into the ten titles, of which no two were alike. “Jitters” casts the piano and guitar in a glittering counterpoint, almost like a sequencer pattern, that leads to bright and inventive ensemble play. “Therapy” is a beautiful, moody piece that echoes compositional aspects of Noble’s mentor, John Taylor, with its arpeggiated complex chords. “Enchante” is an up-tempo jaunt that threads between Swing and Samba. Along the way, Noble manages to throw some rhythmically mutated montuno licks into his solo and goes on to generate some real improvisational heat. “Bunker” pits Gress’ loping bass against angular lines in the guitar and piano giving way to some oddly funky interplay among the ensemble. “Butterflies,” a duet for Robson and Noble, has the guitar and piano weaving dissonant angularities around and through each other. The title track begins with a strange rubato unison line over various pedals, oddly harmonized, that suggests a bluesy ballad viewed through a fun house mirror. “Romance Among the Fishes” is an excellent album that held up very well with repeated listenings and should serve to raise international awareness of Noble’s excellent playing and writing. In this day and age of Jazz retreads, it’s refreshing to encounter a genuinely original voice.


14/10/2005 John Fordham, The Guardian

If a song title doesn't make much sense to you, almost any means of passing the time is likely to be more productive than stopping to ask a jazz musician what it means. The gifted and undemonstratively wayward British pianist Liam Noble doesn't explain this one, but a private, absorbing exercise in contemporary jazz pattern-juggling builds up quite enough meaning in its own way without stumbling over the clutter of literal translation.
Noble likes a mixture of staccato, drily witty themes that suggest a collision of Steve Coleman and Django Bates with Wayne Shorter - and with Canadian piano guru Paul Bley in the quieter episodes. This music stems from a set-up organised by the Cheltenham international jazz festival in 2004, when Noble and his regular freebop guitar partner Phil Robson were paired with the innovative American bass- and-drums team of Drew Gress and Tom Rainey.

The set opens with the fast, clattery, up-and-down unison melody of Jitters, which Gress and Rainey join with effortlessly creative aplomb after Noble and Robson's theme statement. The mood shifts for the freely evolving, softly-rippling Therapy; Bunker examines the melodic implications of instruments passing in and out of phase with each other; and Bluebear is an enigmatic guitar/piano theme set up by Rainey's many-layered drumming, which turns into a boppish flyer for the agile Robson.

The title track is a dreamy ebb- and-flow of melodic fragments that keep suggesting new mutations, a common enthusiasm for both the British pair and their American guests. This might sound something of a scholarly, theoretical exercise, but it has an inner energy and quiet vigour that grows on you.


14/10/2005 Bev Stapleton, AllAboutJazz

If some of the commentary in the jazz press is to be believed, it can only be a matter of time before European jazz musicians sail up the Potomac to burn Washington again. Jazz in America, so the thesis goes, is dead. The baton has been passed to Europe.

Such ideas would presumably be quite puzzling to the musicians on Romance Among the Fishes. This group, under the leadership of British pianist Liam Noble, was put together for a performance at the 2004 Cheltenham Jazz Festival (typical of the visionary programming of director Tony Dudley Evans). Phil Robson, a leading UK guitarist in his own bands, Partisans, and with Christine Tobin, is Noble’s front-line partner. The US contingent is provided by the crack rhythm team of Tom Rainey and Drew Gress.

Liam Noble has been a regular feature of many of the bands touring Britain since the early 1990s. His excellent 2003 recording In the Meantime, with such luminaries as Stan Sulzmann and Chris Biscoe, served notice of a distinctive compositional talent. Romance Among The Fishes should bring his music to a much wider audience.

The cover pictures an aquarium of illuminated fishes, an image that fits perfectly with some of the slower pieces. Most of the material has been composed by Noble, generally quite terse themes that provide knotty jump-off points for the improvisations. Just as in a fish tank a variety of fishes can be seen moving in contrary directions, yet give a sense of common movement, so all four musicians follow highly independent paths, whilst obeying the general direction of the composed music. The opening “Jitters” is built around a pentatonic theme, reminiscent of Debussy in his more Eastern-influenced piano music, though at a cracking pace. “Therapy” is more dreamy, with a beautifully melodic bass solo from Gress and striking solos from Robson and Noble. Three tracks appear to be virtually free improvisations, setting up short duets.

Though in constant flux, this is far from a wild recording, having more in common with the music of Jimmy Giuffre or Lee Konitz. The musicians are not afraid to leave space between the notes, helping to establish a watery, floating feel. Especially impressive in this respect is the concluding title track, where Robson’s guitar is rich in reverb, sounding almost Cuban in texture. The faintly out-of-synch wooziness of the track sums up Noble's musical approach, avoiding clear-cut, finished phrases.

The artificial divisions set up between “European” and “American” jazz are blown apart by carefully crafted collaborations like Romance Among The Fishes. Where the fusion of Ken Vandermark with Norway’s Atomic explores the fiery side of jazz, this four-way collaboration investigates a cooler but no less fascinating aspect.

All praise too to Basho Music, rapidly emerging as one of the UK's most dynamic organisations in promoting and recording contemporary jazz.



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