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Phil Robson Organ Trio At Flowerfield Arts Centre

Phil Robson Organ Trio At Flowerfield Arts Centre

Courtesy John Case

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Phil Robson Organ Trio
Flowerfield Arts Centre
Portstewart, N. Ireland
June 29, 2024

Is there an ideal time to catch a band on tour? At the start, when the musicians are fresh and there is the excitement of material still being shaped, or at the end when there may be bags under the eyes, but where the interplay is more finely honed? Swings and roundabouts. After two weeks touring England, guitarist Phil Robson, organist Ross Stanley and drummer Gene Calderazzo crossed the Irish Sea for four dates on either side of the border. It marked a quick return to the Emerald Isle, following the trio's appearance at Bray Jazz Festival in May. If the musicians were tired, they did not show it. These are seasoned road dogs, after all.

Stanley, however, was displaying a little wear and tear—a discolored bag under one eye testament to an unprovoked attack in London by a looney tune with a handbag at the outset of the tour. Along with the bruises, Stanley was also touring with a Hammond organ. Not your ubiquitous Nord C variety, but a proper wooden-cased Hammond C-3 circa 1961. This brute takes some lugging around, but it was surely worth all the toil, for once cranked up there is nothing to beat its sound. From swampy growl to church-like solemnity, and everything in between, a Hammond, in the right hands, is a noble beast.

It seemed apt, therefore, when Robson called a new tune entitled "Authenticity," as this trio follows in the wake of jazz organ progenitors Jimmy Smith, Jimmy McGriff, Trudy Pitts and Richard "Groove" Holmes, to name but a few. Not that the Phil Robson Organ Trio had synchronized watches for 1966. This was no blues-drenched, soul-jazz nostalgia trip. What is more, over half the tunes were striking originals from the guitarist's The Cut Off Point (Whirlwind Recordings Ltd., 2015), or newly minted offerings.

That the trio eased out of the blocks with Dave Holland's handsome "Processional" and later sank its teeth with gusto into Robson's John Scofield-esque jazz-funk fest "Ming The Merciless" also reflected its more modern leanings. And though Robson the guitarist has been nourished by the likes of George Benson, Wes Montgomery, Grant Green (and no doubt Quentin Warren too), there is much more of Pat Martino's contemporary language in his fluid, articulate lines.

Robson dedicated the evening's one standard, "We'll Be Together Again," to Martino and Louis Stewart, who had both embraced Native American jazz pianist/composer Carl T. Fisher's tune back in the day. A gently swinging groove set up elegant solos from Robson and Stanley, with Calderazzo tracing the music's arc with silvery brushwork, deftly propulsive stickwork, and in the delicate finale, rumbling mallets.

The stripped-down format negated any great variation in form, with head-solo-solo-head the norm, but there were still plenty of contrasts in tempo and mood. The first set closed with two Robson originals of strongly contrasting character—the slow-burning, blues-tinged "Canute," and the bop-fueled "Chomping," whose title signposted the sparks that flew from one and all.

After a short interval Robson addressed the audience, expressing his relief and gratitude that it had come back for more. Its faith was amply rewarded with an equally persuasive second set balanced in favor of Robson's own compositions. "Astral," an older tune, which Robson revisited with David Lyttle on their excellent duo album IN2 (Lyte Records, 2023), and "Authenticity" both demonstrated the art of slow cooking, with the yin and yang of restrained tempo and emotive improvisation providing tension and release in satisfying measure.

Inevitably perhaps, Robson and Stanley hogged the soloing spotlight, with Calderazzo accorded the odd vamp-charged feature, notably on the exhilarating "Callow Freeway," but in truth, the drummer's heady combination of intense focus and free-reined expression throughout the evening—ever in service of the music—was every bit as hypnotic as his cohorts' most free-spirited solos. More than a few folks who were sitting up close to the action did not take their eyes off the drummer all evening.

By way of an encore, the trio visited Wayne Shorter's beautifully enigmatic "Fall," delivering a personal rendition—spiced by a spacy Hammond intervention—that captured the original's soulful yet adventurous spirit.

All three musicians have busy schedules with diverse projects, so these organ-trio outings are to be savored. Hopefully, it will not be too long before the Phil Robson Organ Trio hits the studio and the road once again, maniacal handbag-wielding individuals notwithstanding.

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