Liam Noble ‘The Long Game’ CD (Edition) 5/5

Pianist Liam Noble has been a regular contributor to the UK jazz scene for over two decades. Dating back to 1994 which saw the release of “Close Your Eyes”, his first solo cd, he has since gone on to record and perform with artists such as Phil Robson, Tom Rainey, Paul Clarvis, Drew Gress, Evan Parker, Christine Tobin, Mat Maneri and Julian Siegel to name but a few. Noble’s growing reputation as a free improviser led to him recording in 2011 with Zhenya Strigalev, Larry Grenadier, Tim LeFebvre and Eric Harland, before moving on to a new trio project with Shabaka Hutchings and Chris Batchelor. Turning once more to another solo project, 2015 saw the release of a mix of eclectic improvisations with music by Elgar, Zawinul and Rodgers and Hammerstein. Given Noble’s diverse musical adventures, it should perhaps come as no surprise that “The Long Game” sees the pianist exploring new and exciting territories once more.

In many ways, this is an album of contradictions. It’s a trio recording, but not as one might expect. Long term collaborators bassist Tom Herbert and drummer Seb Rochford join Noble on this session. Together they perform nine original compositions, with the wonderfully crafted music exploring and envisioning many opposing moods; from deft tranquillity to an unsettling disquiet. There’s an edge to the music that suggests the trio of musicians felt unconstrained in any way, using their skills and experience to let the music happen, totally at one with what they were doing, allowing each moment of making music to naturally unfold. And that it does… it unfolds and kind of de-folds, before illuminating the earth like a transient star in space twisting in on itself before creating a spellbinding supernova.

With Tom Herbert and Seb Rochford one might venture to suggest that Noble has found the perfect pairing to accompany him. This certainly is the case on this session. They weave their own magic in and around the pianist’s musings, at times coming to the forefront whilst also knowing instinctively when to sit back and let the time and space within Noble’s music just breathe. With Noble’s intelligent and compelling mix of acoustic piano and electronics, there’s a uniquely distinctive sound and feel to this album, one that rewards patience from the listener. It’s not an album to put on in the background or to listen to half-heartedly, that’s for sure. The music demands attention in a quiet yet resolute way, with its intimate atmosphere slowly but surely becoming more and more musically satisfying with every listen.

The opening groove on “Rain On My Birthday” opens a doorway to funky improvisations from the trio, but as with all of the tunes here, there’s an abstract, oddly quirky and almost irreverent feel to the proceedings. Noble’s use of electronic sounds is inspired. Zawinul would have been proud. “Between You And Me”, one of my favourite tracks on the album, is a reflective piece that simply takes its time in telling its tale. The acoustic piano is gorgeous, with electronic sounds giving the tune an ethereal, other-worldly dimension. As the achingly beautiful piano chords progress, I just love the way Rochford’s drums embrace the tune and take it onto yet another level of immersion. “Head of Marketing” could be a Bill Frisell tune with its twangy guitar sounds rolling around the deep, bluesy bass riff that pins the piece down. “Head First” is an aggressive onslaught of sound, with its distorted, driving ambition matched only by its unabashed explosive soloing. An esoteric mood prevails on “Flesh and Blood”, more of an atmospheric piece that engages the listener with its triumphant lyricism. The album closes with “Matcha Mind”. This is the musical version of the phrase ‘I wouldn’t want to meet him down a dark alley’. Its eeriness is creepy, to say the least, like a very twisted fairy tale or the musical embodiment of a Guillermo Del Toro film character. Strange yet somehow beautiful.

An abstract yet vibrant album of enchanting pieces of music, sometimes fragmented, sometimes whole, the vision and execution of Noble’s compositions is exemplary. Fulfilled with a sense of meaning, the music being made here is thoughtful and accomplished. Above all, however, “The Long Game” allows Noble’s undoubted musical invention to shine brightly with a fresh, mesmerising purpose.

Mike Gates