Rob Luft follows up his excellent 2017 album Riser with this new one, Life is the Dancer, equally as good as that earlier one. But then I’m biased, as a fan.
Riser lifted itself up from the ‘jazz’ genre to being something that wasn’t, totally, jazz. Labels don’t apply here; the music has to stand up on its own. And it sure does, right from the opening track ‘Berlin’ (written by Anders Christensen – I assume the bassist rather than the footballer!) with its distorted guitar raging through its four minutes.
Riser had, on its CD sleeve, a photo of Luft wearing a Sonic Youth Goo t-shirt and that was enough to show the casual listener that all was not jazz, at least in spirit.
The title of this new album is a quote from the spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle: ‘Life is the dancer and you are the dance’. Can you dance to Luft’s albums? Hell, yeah. In a way that you can, if you really wish to, dance to Captain Beefheart or Pere Ebu to pluck some names out of the air.
Featuring shorter compositions (shorter than what?) along with a couple of barely sub-eight minute tracks, the pieces gel together to create an album (remember those, before people started buying or streaming individual songs?) that shows off Luft’s virtuoso playing and composition with his musicians at the height of their abilities.
While Luft is a superb guitarist (see, I didn’t label it jazz!) he is also an accomplished composer and it’s this that makes this new album flow. I listened to it on a sunny Sunday afternoon and it was the perfect soundtrack. But then, I listened to it on a Wednesday evening with rain pelting against the windows and it was equally perfect. Rather than label it jazz maybe in these strange times we should call it lockdown music.
Luft is an original guitarist and composer; by that I mean it’s difficult to pick up any particularly strong influences. Though I can say there’s no Sonic Youth in there as far as I can tell. I’m not a jazz aficionado; most of my new education comes from late night listening of Jazz FM as I’m drifting in and out of sleep.
But I do hear some Don Cherry – in the composition rather than the playing. I also can’t escape hearing, in places, echoes of Frank Zappa in the playing and composition.
I’m not going to comment on individual tracks; this is music you have to listen to as a collection, tracks one to ten. Though to contradict myself immediately, the title track sounds perfect on the radio around midnight.
Mention and kudos must go to the other six musicians who feature on this album. Luft says in the sleeve notes that the music was written for them and was inspired by them. This is a group effort led uncompromisingly by Luft himself (who also produced the album). He does a great job of it.
Have a listen, maybe have a bit of a dance. But whatever you bring to it, enjoy!
Picture John Gimblett