Review: Dave Liebman and Phil Robson/ Vortex


The Dave Liebman (above) / Phil Robson collaboration, with Dave Whitford on bass and erstwhile Liebman colleague Jeff Williams on drums has really developed since their extraordinary first gig which I heard. On the first occasion they were finding each other out on the bandstand. Not any more.

The word is also out: the group crammed the Vortex to bursting last night, and it should definitely be going places , eg finding its way into bigger venues. I'm expecting this group will be perfect for the Everyman Theatre in Cheltenham this weekend...... (Tony Dudley-Evans does have a knack of getting these things right! )

The magic of Robson's often unassuming presence, and the gentle way he coaxes and provokes, is that he sets up an ideal context for Liebman. Robson gives the saxophonist unbelievable room for manoeuvre and freedom to explore. Liebman doesn't have to state or articulate or foreshadow anything. He can dive straight in, and snarl and bite and swoop and cluck and squeal from the very first bars of the tune. The immediacy, urgency and attack in Liebman's playing are quite startling.
Robson as player and as composer always leaves harmonic room for anything to happen. And when Liebman gets hold of a tune like Screenwash, it is transformed. Indeed with Solid, the tune which opened the set, Robson explained that Liebman had moved the tune on so far, he had felt the imperative to change the name. The original name was jettisoned and quickly forgotten.


Dave Whitford is an ideal accomplice for Robson. He put a simple but insistent dominant pedal under Liebman's solo in Screenwash which brought out both ferocity and tenderness. Well, actually , a lot more of the former than the latter.

Jeff Williams is capable of being understated, of being sparse, laconic, distant. He can wait patiently, seemingly for ever. But when Williams gets his moment to build the intensity, to up the energy and produce storms, as last night on All Blues, and he delivers big-time.


Robson has a generous spirit . He made a very nice gesture in his first remarks: he invited the audience to show their appreciation of the opening band, James Allsop's Golden Age of Steam with Kit Downes on Hammond and Tim Giles on drums. I got a first taste of this band last night, and am very eager to hear more. One thing is certain: all three are interesting musicians at an early stage of their performing careers. They've spent most of their waking hours thinking about education rather than performance. This will change- hopefully! And that means that Golden Age of Steam won't stand still. Downes last night on Hammond sometimes seemed me to be hiding his light, carefully delivering trance-like backings for Allsop's melodic line rather than provoking him and participating in the dialogue. The best is yet to come.

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