Christine Tobin/Phil Robson IMS Quintet
(Purcell Room, 15th November. Part of LJF11. Review by Chris Parker)
Christine Tobin's latest project features her song settings of the poems of W. B. Yeats. She actually began the composing process (responding to a commission from the National Library of Ireland) with a poem familiar to her since schooldays, 'Sailing to Byzantium', but she started this set with one of the most familiar opening lines in poetry: 'When you are old and grey and full of sleep …', from a poem recited to her by her first boyfriend in Ireland. The singular appropriateness of this choice was reflected throughout this moving and absorbing concert in the ease and natural assurance characterising her settings of a wide variety of Yeats's work.
Tobin is blessed not only with one of the most affecting and pure-toned voices in the music, but also with an unimpeachable ear for an insinuatingly lovely melody, so her touching interpretations did nothing but enhance the beauty and pathos of lines such as 'But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,/ And loved the sorrows of your changing face', or (from 'The Wild Swans at Coole') 'Among what rushes will they build/ By what lake's edge or pool/ Delight men's eyes when I awake some day/ To find they have flown away?', and her band, long-time associates Liam Noble (piano), Kate Shortt (cello), Dave Whitford (bass) and Phil Robson (guitar), were versatile and skilled enough to ensure that robust settings (particularly an appropriately powerful – even disturbing – version of the apocalyptic 'The Second Coming') were just as effective as the more lyrical material. This was simply a hauntingly beautiful concert, the perfect appetiser for Tobin's forthcoming Yeats album, to be released next year.
Phil Robson moved centre stage for the concert's second half, the launch of his band's new album, The Immeasurable Code (reviewed elsewhere on this site). A suite of pieces inspired by methods of human communication, originally commissioned by Derby Jazz, Robson's music sets his wide-ranging guitar playing (he is a past master at selecting the precise tone and timbre appropriate to particular pieces) against a sparkily vigorous but carefully calibrated band sound propelled by the controlled tumult of Ernesto Simpson's drums and Michael Janisch's driving bass. Sharing front-line duties with the quietly intense saxophones of Mark Turner and the virtuosic flute playing of Gareth Lockrane, Robson (as he had done throughout Tobin's set) not only produced a series of superb solos, blisteringly urgent one minute, dexterously delicate the next, but also subtly bound the band together with his deft, swooning chords.
The quality of his compositions, too, was impressive, embracing everything from relatively straightforward energetic bustles to more contemplative material that enabled Turner in particular to shine with his trademark slow-building, earnest ardour.
A thoroughly entertaining evening's music from two of the brightest stars in the UK jazz firmament.
The Immeasurable Code is on Whirlwind Recordings