Phil Robson's IMS Quintet
(Stables, Wavendon, January 18th 2011)
How easily we take some things for granted. Improvising musicians of the quality of Phil Robson's IMS Quintet will invariably give the listener the chance to be present at the very moment of creation. But to attend the first performances of new compositions by this newly-formed band felt like a special privilege.
The event took place, in low-key fashion, in the small second hall of The Stables in Wavendon last night, but the ripples about this project are bound to spread. There are several more performances - including next Monday 24th and Tuesday 25th at the Vortex. BBC's Jazzon3 - good call - will be recording the second night for later broadcast.
I take it as very good news indeeed that there will be a recording. Because Phil Robson's music, on a first hearing, always gives me that feeling I haven't yet heard right the way through it to the other side. Yes, there are moments of beauty, external allure, yes there is variety. But there is also a depth which brings one back wanting to revisit, to hear more and more. Robson as a player always leaves space for the others, and his compositions as improvising vehicles also give room for stories to be unfurled by soloists, for nice surprises to happen through interaction in the moment.
The compositions stretch from a floaty, dreamy ballad called "A Serenade" featuring the intertwined and exquisitely matched voices of Gareth Lockrane on bass flute and Mark Turner on tenor saxophone, to the ferociously polyrhythmic "The Immeasurable Code," - Lockrane on piccolo this time, Turner on soprano - which contains a message in Morse which Phil is not disclosing. The pieces veer from the busy multi-layered waltz "Fire and the Drum" to a lively Billy Strayhorn tribute entitled "The Instant Message." Challenging, fascinating stuff.
Further contrast in each set came from compositions from Gareth Lockrane ("Dark Swinger") and Mark Turner (new/untitled). Lockrane's piece was an uptempo burner, in which one moment stays in my mind. The first soloist was Mark Turner, who started sotto voce and detached, but proceeded to fly, his fascinating lines untrammelled by any technical restrictions. Lockrane looked on, and smiled. The price of the ticket is worth it just to hear Turner play. There cannot be a more completely equipped yet utterly musical saxophone player anywhere in the world.
But Turner also catches the ethos of this band. Maybe there will be more extroversion as the tour develops. What caught last night the ear was the unselfishness of the playing. Drummer Ernesto Simpson has worked with the likes of Arturo Sandoval and Dizzy Gillespie, and clearly has the ability to unleash a tsunami of sound. But last night he was fitting under Mike Janisch 's solos in a way which left that fine, expressive, and yet immaculate bassist all the freedom and space he needed.
Another remarkable feature of the performance was the manner in which this band ends every piece. These five musicians bring astonishing mutual respect and responsibility. Can five members of a band really all simultaneously be first-take perfectionists and completer-finishers? They were last night.
The IMS Quintet is a catch-it-while you can situation. I can only describe this group as unmissable.
19th Jan -Birmingham Conservatoire
20th Jan - Bristol - Future Inns
21st Jan-Fleece Jazz , Stoke by Nayland Club, Essex
22nd Jan -Millenium Hall Sheffield
23rd Jan -Derby Assembly Rooms
24 & 25th Jan -Vortex Jazz Club
26th Jan -The Hawth,Crawley, West Sussex