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Rob Luft's
Life Is The Dancer

by Howard Lawes




Nicholas Poussin painting


The artist Nicholas Poussin painted the picture 'A Dance to the Music of Time' in 1636; it can be viewed in the Wallace Collection in London.  While the precise meaning of the picture is uncertain, it has come to represent the perpetual cycle of the human condition itself: from poverty to labour to riches and then to pleasure, which, if indulged to excess, reverts to poverty.  The title of Rob Luft's new album, Life Is The Dancer, is a quote borrowed from Eckhart Tolle who said "life is the dancer and you are the dance" while W.B. Yeats in his poem 'Among School Children' asks the question "How can we know the dancer from the dance?".

It is self evident that dance and dancer are inextricably linked and these various metaphors of human life and how it is lived serve to get us thinking about ourselves and our situation.  Life Is The Dancer is an excellent title for an album of music and the title has taken on added significance given that is has been released into a world plagued by Covid-19, but while the added significance may be welcome, the chaos and damage that has been done to the whole music industry in general and Rob Luft's plans for promoting the album in particular are decidedly unwelcome.

Rob Luft Life Is The dancer album


Over the telephone Rob tells me how he was in New York for two sold-out gigs in Greenwich Village in March with Elina Duni and Rod Youngs and had just completed the soundcheck when the gig was cancelled, forcing Rob and Elina to quickly get a flight back to London before the lockdown and travel ban came into effect. Months later a poster on the Royal Albert pub in New Cross advertising an upcoming Rob Luft gig still hangs forlornly, weeks after the gig was meant to have taken place, and it is surely this almost instantaneous abandonment of live performance that is so hard to come to terms with.

Rob is stoical about his and the predicament of all musicians who thrive on live performance.  It was too late to delay its release so the album launch was done on-line via Serious Livestream Sessions with Elina Duni helping out but without the quintet that performed in the recording studio. Rob has spent his lockdown time at home. He admits that the enforced break from his normal busy life has enabled him to listen to music far more, including music from his own collection that he hasn't heard for a long time such as Nick Drake and the earlier work of Pat Metheny that included Brazilian and Argentinian influences.  It must also be very pleasing that Life Is The Dancer has been very well received by critics and the public alike - Chris May at allaboutjazz wrote "Every aspect of the album is sublime....", while Adrian Pallant wrote "the guitarist's warm personality and eclectic musical interests clearly shine through both his playing and interactions with others."  The other musicians on the album are Luft's long term collaborators, with Joe Wright on tenor saxophone, Joe Webb on Hammond organ and piano, Tom McCredie on double bass and Corrie Dick on drums.  Guest contributions come from Byron Wallen on trumpet and Luna Cohen on vocals.



Fans of Rob Luft will remember that the title track of his first album as band leader, Riser, betrayed a South African influence while another track had the feel of a ceilidh about it. This blending of jazz with other music genres has been called 'future jazz' and Life Is The Dancer carries on where Riser left off, with more great jazz that gets you dancing and with arrangements that give every band-member the chance to shine.  Unusually, the first track on the album has not been written by Luft but is an arrangement of a piece composed by Danish bassist Anders Christensen called Berlin, which the Luft quintet often play at the end of gigs. This irresistible piece celebrates Berlin techno which became popular with young people following the demolition of the Berlin Wall; outside of Germany the same style of music might be called dance music.


Listen to Berlin.




Tracks 2, Life Is The Dancer and 10, Expect The Unexpected, both include trumpet from Byron Wallen and vocalising from Luna Cohen and the addition of these two artists generates a really big sound from the band. Rob Luft revealed in a recent BBC Radio 3 interview with Jess Gillam that the voice is his favourite instrument and hearing Luna Cohen it is easy to understand why, although surely Wallen's trumpet, muted on the latter track, can't be far behind.


Here is a video of Expect The Unexpected played live in Budapest in February 2020.




The tanpura is an Indian fretless lute and on track 5, Tanpura, Rob conjures an authentic sound using electronics and a slider.  Synesthesia, the title of track 6 is a condition whereby one perceives something with two senses simultaneously and in the musical context this often involves hearing sounds and seeing them as colours; Joe Webb plays some great piano on this track before Rob piles in with guitar reinforced with electronics. This track was co-written by Rob and Enzo Zirilli and Rob relates that Zirilli found a hang (a tuned percussion instrument popularised by the band Portico) backstage where they were performing in Italy and instantly produced a tune on it that Rob recorded.  


Listen to Synesthesia.




It is clear that a lot of skill and thought has gone into this album and the result is excellent jazz with numerous and varied influences. The title of the album itself inspires thought and during these gloomy times the music from Rob Luft and his superlative band will certainly help to bring some joy into everyone's life.  

The streamed album launch of Life Is The Dancer with just Rob and Elina is still available on YouTube. It runs for just over an hour and it is a delight. It is informal and relaxed and even if the picture isn't perfect, the music is outstanding.




Click here for details and samples of the album Life Is The Dancer.


Rob Luft


Click here for Rob Luft's website.



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