Rob Luft – Life is The Dancer
(Edition Records EDN1152. Review by Fiona Mactaggart)
“Life is the dancer and you are the dance” is a quote from renowned German-Canadian spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle, and from which English guitarist Rob Luft takes the title for his new album. An appropriate choice, seeing as a sense of searching, including of the metaphysical kind, seems to pervade the album. This, together with an infectious vivacity and sense of optimism, plus nods to various musical influences (West African and Indie Rock for example), contributes to an internally consistent and evolved album.
This is the second album as leader from this prolific London-based 26-year-old. Luft’s 2017 debut Riser, also released by Edition, received widespread accolades and the guitarist has received multiple awards, not least The Kenny Wheeler Music Prize. Ever active, Luft has participated in multiple projects, such as tango outfit Deco Ensemble and recently, co-led with tenor saxman Dave O’Higgins on the 2019 Ubuntu label release, O’Higgins And Luft Play Monk And Trane (REVIEWED).
Given such promise, much might be expected and in fact Luft does deliver, and in spades. Superbly paced, Life Is The Dancer consists of ten tracks: fast paced, bursting-with-energy tracks alternating with shorter (under 3 minutes), more ruminative tracks (numbers 3, 5, 7 and 9). All music is composed by Luft except for two of the richest tracks, opener Berlin (by Danish bassist Anders Christensen) and track 6, Synesthesia (co-written by Luft and Italian drummer Enzo Zirilli).
On both the title track and the final Expect The Unexpected there are cameos from Byron Wallen on beautiful and mostly muted trumpet and Brazilian Luna Cohen who contributes New Age-style vocalising. Otherwise, the band personnel is unchanged from Riser, with Joe Wright on tenor sax, Joe Webb on piano and Hammond organ, Tom McCredie on bass and the inimitable Corrie Dick on drum kit.
The first bar of opening track Berlin briefly evoked for this surprised listener the Scottish band The Proclaimers, the insistent beats thereafter drawing one in, making it hard not to want to get up and dance. From around 2’20 Luft’s web of guitar figures give credence to past commentators who have compared him to Pat Metheny.
Another outstanding track is Synesthesia. Opening with some pleasingly off-piste piano, in unison brass leads to some ultra-rapid tempo changes, evoking clever contemporary jazz bands such as Trio HLK. As is his wont, a few minutes in Luft’s guitar emerges from the group sound, this time enhanced with shimmery, echoey electronic effects.
The album gains too from its recurring meditative feel, exemplified by the short, airy Tanpura and also Expect The Unexpected. The latter opens with Wallen’s trumpet presenting a slow, ruminative theme, handing this over to Dick’s drums then to Luft’s guitar, who again augments electronically with lovely echoes which are further enhanced by Cohen’s vocalisations. This restrained closing track feels, to this listener, as if the band are gathering themselves before an unclear future.
Perhaps it is quibbling to suggest that the endings of some of the tracks may have sounded a little incomplete. However, taken as a whole this album is a very strong outing for Luft, especially coming so relatively early in his career. It is well-curated, technically admirable, energetic and joy-filled and, for those of us currently on complete lockdown, a breath of fresh air. A generous, ensemble effort, Luft embeds his accomplished guitar within a highly sympathetic band. This listener’s sense of being simultaneously activated and calmed, a common experience during meditation, adds to the belief that this timely release will be warmly appreciated by many.
Fiona Mactaggart lives in Edinburgh, plays drums and writes about music on Scottish Jazz Space.
Life Is The Dancer was released on 17 April 2020 and is available on vinyl, CD and digital.