British guitarist Rob Luft's debut album, Riser (Edition, 2017), was greeted with huge acclaim. Some observers likened his arrival to the emergence of Wes Montgomery or Pat Metheny. The music world is used to hyperbole, but for once the praise is justified. For anyone yet to hear Luft, a useful yardstick is the pianist Bill Evans: Luft conjures up degrees of seraphic beauty akin to those created by Evans during his purple period with bassist Scott LaFaro and drummer Paul Motian. He really is that good.
It seems like the follow-up to Riser has been an unconscionable time coming. In 2019, Luft co-led an album with tenor saxophonist Dave O'Higgins titled O'Higgins & Luft Play Monk & Trane (Ubuntu), but that was essentially a blowing session, albeit a strong one, as though Luft was taking stock before recording the follow-up proper. Life Is The Dancer is that follow-up and was recorded with the Riser band: tenor saxophonist Joe Wright, keyboardist Joe Webb, bassist Tom McCredie and drummer Corrie Dick. The quartet is augmented on two tracks by trumpeter Byron Wallen and vocalist Luna Cohen. Every aspect of the album is sublime, from the compositions (once more, all originals) through the performances to the production and mix.
Luft is an evolutionary rather than a revolutionary guitarist; his style is grounded on the music of players who have preceded him. He shares several qualities with Pat Metheny, notably heightened lyricism, technical virtuosity and a deft touch with electronic effects. On a track such as the opening "Berlin" (check the YouTube below), his band also creates the same irresistible, four-on-the-floor momentum as the Pat Metheny Group did on "Are You Going With Me?" on Travels (ECM, 1982). Other traces are of the pre-digital electronic pioneer John Martyn, Radiohead and (this might be imagined) Dino Valenti during Quicksilver Messenger Service's circa-1970 pomp. Luft's style is a garden of heavenly delights alright. But it is also his own: once heard, you will not confuse him with any other player.
Life Is The Dancer is balm for the soul and we can always use as much of that as we can get.
Berlin; Life Is The Dancer; All Ways Moving; One Day In Romentino; Tanpura; Synesthesia; Other Wise; Snow Country; Sad Star; Expect The Unexpected.
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Chris May is a senior editor of All About Jazz and editor of the style magazine Jocks & Nerds; he was previously the editor of Black Music & Jazz Review magazine; he is Afrobeat consultant for Partisan Records and Google Arts & Culture.