Rob Luft ‘Riser’ CD (Edition) 5/5

Rob Luft is a London based, twenty three year old guitarist and composer and “Riser” is his debut album, released on the ever-impressive Edition label. It is an astonishing debut, especially given the fact that up until recently Luft saw himself primarily as a performer, rather than a composer. As he explains; “Riser marks the first occasion on which I’ve released a selection of my original songs. I have always considered myself as being primarily a performer and secondly a composer. I feel more at home standing on the kind of ‘Riser’ that can be found in London’s jazz clubs rather than sitting at home writing music”. The ten original tunes he has penned for this album well and truly prove that he is already an accomplished writer and performer, giving the listener the best of both worlds in abundance.

This album is so fresh and inventive, it has it all. Startling compositions that brim with a joyous air of inventiveness are performed with an ease of grace and skill by the musicians involved. Luft plays acoustic and electric guitars, and is joined by Joe Wright on tenor saxophone, Joe Webb on piano, Hammond organ and harmonium, Tom McCredie on bass, and Corrie Dick on drums. This acoustic quintet work brilliantly together with their youthful exuberance meeting head-on with a deft maturity, making for a rich and rewarding listening experience.

Luft’s background as a very young member of The National Youth Jazz Orchestra, along with his work with saxophonist Martin Speake, drummers Enzo Zirilli and Phelan Burgoyne, trumpeter Byron Wallen and vocalist Luna Cohen, appear to have given the guitarist a wealth of varied experience in a relatively short space of time. His own music is multi-faceted, taking on board many musical influences and styles, ranging from contemporary jazz, Celtic folk, Afro-Caribbean, indie-pop and ambient dance grooves. That may sound like a heady mix, but it all gels together in such a fascinating and subtle way that it all just sounds as if it was always meant to be. His writing is extremely melodic and surprises and delights in equal measure.

Luft veers away from what you might expect a debut album to be. It’s very much a group recording, one where the guitarist is certainly the leader and driving force, but where he gives room for the other musicians to shine. And this is clearly down to the writing. These are proper tunes, carefully constructed with ideas to burn, written, I would imagine, with a very clear idea of what the composer wanted to achieve. This isn’t an album or a guitarist where the debutant invites comparisons in any context really… certainly not in your archetypal Jazz trio/quartet/quintet tradition anyway. Luft is very much charting his own course and seems pleasingly unafraid to do so. He has his own character and creates his own sound through his artistic vision, in the same way that one might think of how Pat Metheny or Kurt Rosenwinkel forged and developed their own style and sound. The resulting music is highly original, versatile, compelling and ultimately wonderfully satisfying.

“Night Songs” opens the album, with its infectious rhythms burning brightly. Darting exploratory phrases combine with striking melodies with an urgency that has this listener on the edge of his seat from word go. The combined interplay between sax and guitar, drums and bass, enriched with soaring Hammond organ are a feature throughout the recording, and this first track combines all of these elements perfectly. The title track “Riser” begins with lush acoustic guitar before the overall sound begins to resonate with a joyful, playful vivacity. Reminiscent in some ways of tenor saxophonist Andy Sheppard in his early days, there’s an African-inflected vibrancy to this tune. “Beware” has a more ethereal feel to it, with its Celtic overtones and fluent guitar and sax interplay taking me back to the wonderful music of Tim Garland’s “Lammas”. The atmospheric “Slow Potion” is a beautiful piece of music. Folksy guitar combines with a crystal clear electric guitar, floating above a musical pallete of colour and texture. “Different Colours Of Silence” with its reflective Bill Frisell-like intro, develops into an energetic and life-affirming celebration. The thoughtful yet anthemic nature of “Dust Settles” reminds me of Brian Blade and The Fellowship. Uplifting and thought-provoking. “Shorty” benefits from a rhythmic fluency with its jazz, rock, funk grooves dripping out of my speakers as the whole band stretch out in irrepressible style. “Blue, White and Dreaming” is a haunting piece, notes cascading like a gentle waterfall, ripples of sound spreading outward from a pool of clear water. The penultimate track “St. Brian 1” provides yet more excellent interplay from this quintet, with an upbeat mood effervescent and decadent. And so we come to the final piece “We Are All Slowly Leaving”. If you’ve made it to this part of my review then hopefully you’re thinking by now that maybe this album’s well worth checking out. Well, it’s not very often as a reviewer or general avid music lover I’d say this, but the last track of this album is just so incredible that it makes “Riser” worth buying right now, just for this track, let alone everything else that preceded it. This is a stunning piece of music. It’s an adventurous journey, perhaps similar to how Pat Metheny or Weather Report might have taken us on a journey. The opening meditative acoustic guitar leads into a Coltrane-esque spiritual vibe, with the ensuing passage of sound embracing hypnotic grooves and a deep, atmospheric intensity. This is truly brilliant music, leaving me in no doubt whatsoever that Rob Luft could have so much to offer the world of jazz for many years to come.

“Riser” excels as an album in many ways. Brilliant writing, fabulous individual and collective performances, recorded par-excellence at Real World Studios. But perhaps the best recommendation I can give it, is that I just keep coming back for more. Each and every time I listen to it I feel enthused and invigorated. I love it.

The album is out now and will be officially launched at Kings Place in London on 23rd September 2017.

Mike Gates