|L-R: Julian Joseph, Christine Tobin, Phil Robson
Photo Credit: Kat Pfeiffer
The Winter Sun: Christine Tobin, Phil Robson, Julian Joseph
(Kings Place, 24th January 2016. Review by Peter Jones)
Christine Tobin and Phil Robson have been collaborating for more than two decades, certainly since the former’s debut album, Aililiu, in 1995. The addition of Julian Joseph to this well-established duo was a challenging, fascinating and largely successful move, judging by the experience of their first gig together, at Kings Place on Sunday.
Individually, Tobin and Joseph wrote most of the music, and it must be said straight away is that the beauty and depth of the writing was extraordinary, not least in terms of the unusual subject matter. Love songs are all very well, but these two have a great deal more to say: about visiting art galleries, fatherhood and religion, for example, as in Tobin’s sad, spooky, chiming Ritual, in which she sings of her inability to make sense of the religion she was brought up in: ‘I spat out the faith, and I cried.’
All of the songs were complex and, I imagine, difficult to sing, but Tobin succeeded not merely in hitting the notes, but in expressing the feeling behind the words without recourse to histrionics or show-off vocal gymnastics. Her role model – and what a role model – is Joni Mitchell; the debt she owes is obvious, even to the extent of singing in a strong American accent. Tobin’s song Brandy and Scars was pure Mitchell in both style and execution. However the album explicitly referenced was Mingus, and in the second set we were treated to a medley of the Mingus-Mitchell composition A Chair In The Sky and Ornette Coleman’s All My Life. This was followed by Joseph’s Who Loves You Babe, dedicated to Jaco Pastorius, who also played on the Mingus album.
Throughout, Tobin’s vocal improvisations were striking and inventive, especially on the coda of Who Loves You Babe. Joseph was magisterial and passionate at the keyboard. Robson, despite his dazzling solos, was a rather subdued presence, his guitar mixed slightly too low, and being without a microphone, he could not stamp his personality on the proceedings to the same extent as the other two. There were also some issues, particularly in the first set, where piano and guitar did not seem to have fully resolved their complementary roles. Some audience members left before the end, perhaps disappointed not to hear folk music. But despite drawing on a variety of other musical forms, Tobin has always declared herself to be first and foremost a jazz musician.
Minor teething problems aside, it was a thoroughly enjoyable and satisfying gig, and one felt privileged to witness the birth of this new musical partnership.