by Ian Mann
August 01, 2017
Luft wears his “manifold” influences lightly and has come up with a startlingly original sound inspired by contemporary music from all over the globe.
(Edition Records EDN1095)
2017 is shaping up to be another big year for the twenty three year old London based guitarist and composer Rob Luft.
In 2016 this talented young musician was the winner of the prestigious Kenny Wheeler Music Prize, an award which helped to facilitate the recording of this, his début album as a leader, on the Edition record label. In the same year he was placed second in the Montreux Jazz Guitar Competition, an award that helped to bring his abilities to the attention of the European jazz media.
A former member of the National Youth Jazz Orchestra (NYJO) London born Luft is a graduate of the Jazz Course at the Royal Academy of Music. Already a prolific presence on the capital’s music scene he is a member of close on a dozen different bands including the quartet Big Bad Wolf whose début album “Pond Life” was recently released to considerable critical acclaim.
Reviewed here; http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/big-bad-wolf-pond-life/
Luft also co-leads the tango quintet Deco Ensemble and is a member of other jazz/world music groups such as Third Stream Trio and Baltika, the latter specialising in the music of Eastern Europe.
He is a key member of the Patchwork Jazz Orchestra, a large ensemble comprised mainly of Royal Academy alumni dedicated to the playing of original material sourced from within the band’s ranks.
The majority of PJO’s members had previously played together as part of the Academy big band.
As a sideman Luft currently works with groups led by drummers Enzo Zirilli and Phelan Burgoyne saxophonist Martin Speake, trumpeter Byron Wallen and vocalist Luna Cohen. He has also appeared in groups led by saxophonist Phil Meadows and flautist Gareth Lockrane.
Luft’s already impressive discography includes albums made with NYJO, Deco Ensemble and the Zirilli, Burgoyne and Cohen groups. He has also recorded with bassist Misha Mullov-Abbado, vocalist Liane Carroll and with trombonist Patrick Hayes’ Electric Ensemble.
Hitherto Luft has regarded himself primarily as a performer rather than a composer. “I have always felt more at home standing on the kind of “Riser” that can be found in London’s jazz clubs rather than sitting at home writing music” he explains. So now you know the story behind the album title.
Luft describes his musical influences as “manifold”, something emphasised by the Sonic Youth T-shirt that he sports on the album cover. Galvanised into writing action by the award of the Wheeler prize his compositions are appropriately multi-faceted, drawing inspiration from jazz, rock and folk music, combining accessible melodies with adventurous harmonic and rhythmic ideas. His guitar sound is similarly diverse and embraces a variety of styles and timbres while consistently avoiding the clichés of both jazz and rock. As a soloist as an ensemble player Luft is consistently bright, fluent, inventive and imaginative.
For his leadership début Luft has chosen a young quintet featuring some of the other rising stars of the UK jazz scene in the shapes of Joe Wright (tenor sax), Joe Webb (keyboards), Tom McCredie (bass) and Corrie Dick (drums). Nine of the ten original pieces are written by Luft with just one credited to Luft, McCredie and Dick.
Album opener “Night Songs” combines, darting intricate phrases with accessible melodies as the quintet generate surprisingly full group sound given extra depth by the swells of Webb’s Hammond. Luft is the featured soloist on electric guitar, alternately needling and soaring above the sax and keyboard washes and the restless, interlocking grooves generated by drums and bass. Luft uses his range of guitar effects judiciously to expand the group’s sonic palette on a busy, energetic piece that embraces many influences and seems to reflect the urgency of modern urban life.
Luft switches to acoustic guitar at the beginning of the title track, combining with Wright’s soft, smoky tenor. But the music quickly gathers momentum with the band borrowing from the melodies and rhythms of West African music. Solos include a brief cameo from McCredie and longer outings from Wright and Luft, the latter a spiralling invention on electric guitar. Finally Webb is briefly unleashed on the Hammond. Like the opener the piece manages to cram a lot of information into its six minute duration, but for all the restlessness and intricacy it all sounds perfectly natural and organic. Nothing feels contrived or forced.
Webb’s tenor initially takes the lead on “Beware” which numbers Celtic melodies and rock rhythms among its components. Luft delivers a solo of quiet intensity above a backdrop of Hammond swells and restlessly inventive drumming from the excellent Dick. When Luft cites his musical inspirations as being “manifold” he isn’t joking.
The atmospheric “Slow Potion” features Luft overdubbing himself and combining folk style acoustic guitar picking with crystalline electric guitar lead lines above an ambient backwash including the sound of Webb on an old fashioned harmonium. At times it’s reminiscent of the music of Bill Frisell.
The piece segues almost immediately into the equally evocative “Different Colours Of Silence” which begins in a similarly reflective mood before abruptly changing mood to embrace a joyous energy with Wright’s tenor in full flight.
The piece resolves itself with a gentler coda and again segues almost immediately into the following “Dust Settles” which embraces a wide-screen, epic feel with the instrumentation building in layers with Luft’s guitar eventually heading for the stratosphere propelled by Dick’s sturdy rock rhythms. After reaching a peak there’s a long, slow fade which nevertheless continues to sustain the listener’s interest.
It’s tempting to think of these three pieces as being inter-linked, like a kind of ‘mini-suite’.
Credited to Luft, McCredie and Dick “Shorty” toys with rock and funk rhythms with McCredie on electric bass. The main soloist is Wright who plays with a muscular fluency, tightly underscored by Webb’s Hammond, the leader doubling on both electric and acoustic guitars and the irrepressible Dick at the drums.
“Blue, White and Dreaming” is a haunting and atmospheric duet featuring Webb, primarily on acoustic piano, and Luft on keening, shimmering ambient guitar allied to a judicious use of electronica.
“St. Brian I” finds the quintet in more upbeat mood with Luft’s characteristically rippling arpeggios initially underscoring Wright’s sax melody and subsequent solo. The leader then follows with a richly inventive electric guitar solo before Wright cuts loose again towards the close. There’s some excellent interplay between guitar, sax and organ too.
Luft’s composing style is reminiscent of the quasi-orchestral approach adopted by Pat Metheny but the young Brit sounds nothing like Metheny either as a writer or a guitarist. Comparisons have been made with Kurt Rosenwinkel and Lionel Loueke but on the evidence of this album Luft is already very much his own man with a highly individual and original approach to both playing and composing.
What Luft does share with Metheny is a strong sense of narrative and this is best evidenced on the closing “We Are All Slowly Leaving” which emerges out of an opening solo acoustic guitar meditation to embrace a full on intensity with the composer skilfully developing and layering the music throughout, progressing from solo guitar via a ruminative collective passage which sees the group assembling its collective voice. The next section, driven by the implacable, hypnotic grooves of McCredie and Dick, borrows from the intensity of modern dance music as guitar, sax and keys coalesce and intertwine around the unstoppable beats with Luft’s guitar finally breaking loose. Eventually there’s a long slow, spacey, ambient fade.
Recorded at Peter Gabriel’s Real World Studios by an engineering team including Alex Killpartrick, Patrick Phillips and Mandy Parnell with Luft himself in the producer’s chair “Riser” represents an extraordinary début from the young guitarist.
Luft wears his “manifold” influences lightly and has come up with a startlingly original sound inspired by contemporary music from all over the globe. In this respect it’s very much a product of his cosmopolitan home city.
“Riser” sees Luft excelling as both a guitarist and a writer and it’s very much his record. If there’s a complaint it’s that we don’t hear enough of Wright and Webb as soloists, excellent as their contributions are. But this isn’t an orthodox jazz record in the head-solos-head format, and it is all the better for it. Apart from the leader, who plays with great imagination and conviction, Dick is probably the most distinctive instrumentalist. His drumming is colourful, imaginative and hugely inventive throughout. The high class production values benefit the record enormously too.
For jazz listeners the absence of vocals will probably give “Riser” the edge over the recent Big Bad Wolf record but both albums are highly recommended.
“Riser” has been well received by other jazz commentators and will be officially launched at Kings Place in London on 23rd September 2017. Further shows will be at Sevenoaks Jazz in Kent on 12th December and the Bull’s Head at Barnes on 23rd December. Please visit http://www.robluft.co.uk for details of these and other appearances.
Let’s hope the success of the album will result in more live dates and hopefully a full UK tour. I’ve seen Luft playing live with others but I’d love to see this music performed in the flesh.
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