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Review: Phil Robson’s Immeasurable Code Quintet at the Vortex

Phil Robson. Photocredit: Anthony Stantham

Phil Robson’s Immeasurable Code Quintet
(Vortex, first night of two, 25th September 2012.  Review by Alex Roth)

Hot on the heels of its 25th birthday celebration weekend, The Vortex last night welcomed a stellar band led by guitarist Phil Robson for the first of two nights at the club as part of its Jazz Services UK tour.

Last year Robson launched this new group (LondonJazz reviewed the very first gig in February) and released the CD The Immeasurable Code, which went on to be nominated for both the Parliamentary Jazz Awards and the London Awards for Art & Performance.

The original line-up, featured US saxophonist Mark Turner and flute maestro Gareth Lockrane alongside powerhouse bassist Michael Janisch and the brilliant Cuban drummer Ernesto Simpson. The record centres around the concept of communication, with each piece exploring a different way in which humans have transmitted ideas throughout history. With Julian Arguelles replacing Turner for the current tour, the band arrived in London after several dates in Scotland and there was a palpable sense of mid-tour flow about the music. Robson has assembled a group of truly world-class players and he is right up there with them, leading the ensemble through his often intricate charts with flair and fluidity.

Janisch launched the opening piece Nassarius Beads (named after some of the earliest surviving examples of human art) with a robust solo improvisation and he was a powerful force throughout, locking in well with Simpson’s muscular but agile presence and producing a climactic solo in the set’s closer Bicycle Hire at the Zoo, one of two compositions inspired by Robson’s recent stay in Berlin. To judge by the playfulness of these pieces, he must have thoroughly enjoyed his time in Berlin.

Robson afforded each of his bandmates plenty of soloing space, featuring Lockrane’s bass flute on the beautiful Serenade and an emotionally charged tenor statement from Arguelles on Telepathy and Transmission. Lockrane employs the full range of flute weaponry from bass to piccolo, and his facility on each instrument is unparalleled: he is capable of exhilarating Brecker-ish lines one moment (as in one of Robson’s older compositions Bug Eyes), and colourful extended techniques or wonderfully crafted arpeggiated figures the next.

Ultimately, however, this is Robson’s vehicle, and it drives him to play at his very best, producing some of his most raucous solos (the distorted guitar shred in Telepathy and Transmission) and some of his tenderest, as in the introduction to Serenade where he subtly integrated looping effects to create a soundscape over which he then improvised. Robson’s harmonic freedom, rhythmic phrasing and speed of execution are all on par with household names such as Rosenwinkel and Scofield, and he deserves the global reputation they enjoy. On the strength of this band, he will soon earn it.

The Immeasurable Code Quintet returns to the Vortex tonight (Tuesday) for round two – go and hear them if you can. TOUR DATES

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