Basho Records - Contemporary JazzBASHO RECORDS


Romance Among the Fishes - Liam Noble

Romance Among the Fishes
Liam Noble (piano), Phil Robson (guitar), Drew Gress (bass), Tom Rainey (drums)




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Label Basho Records
Release Date: 17th October 2005
Artist Liam Noble
Catalogue Number SRCD 13-2
Barcode 832929001130
UK Distribution: Proper Music

01 Jitters (Noble) 4:07
02 Therapy (Noble) 6:59
03 Enchante (Noble) 8:01
04 Bunker (Noble) 5:29
05 A Broken Cream (Noble/Rainey) 1:45
06 Bluebear (Noble) 7:32
07 Where do they go (Gress/Noble) 2:11
08 Regular Intervals (Noble) 3:52
09 The Butterflies (Robson/Noble) 1:05
10 Romance Among the Fishes (Noble) 6:28


“Romance Among the Fishes”, recorded in New York in August 2004, came out of a commission for the 2004 Cheltenham Jazz Festival. The music demonstrates Liam Noble’s highly original approach to composition in a suite which was written specifically for the players featured on the album. Tom Rainey’s highly original percussive style and Drew Gress’s virtuosic and responsive bass playing were Liam’s inspiration for the work. With his long-term associate guitarist Phil Robson, whose versatility complements Liam’s inventiveness as an improvising pianist, the quartet have created pieces that demonstrate a strong musical empathy between players whose backgrounds and influences are very diverse. The music has developed a style and energy of its own since its original airing at the Cheltenham Festival where John Fordham described it in the following way:

'The sharp-end American bass/drums duo of New York downtowners Drew Gress and Tom Rainey were mixed into another cocktail on Monday, playing the music of the British pianist Liam Noble, with Phil Robson on guitar...the percussively algebraic finale Jitters brought inventive collective jittering of a clarity, focus and density that sounded like the music of regular partners'. John Fordham, The Guardian

Recorded at The Studio, Greene St, New York City 12/13 August 2004
Recording Engineer Katherine Miller
Assistant Recording Engineer Eiji Takasugi
Mastered by Chris Lewis, Lewis Audio, London
Produced by Liam Noble and Phil Robson
Executive Producer Christine Allen

“I got the opportunity in 2004 to put together a group for the Cheltenham Festival. I had various musical ideas going around in my head, some related, some unrelated.

One idea was from playing in Christine Tobin’s band, where Phil Robson and I often doubled the same parts in the arrangements, like a drawing outlined in two colours....I liked the shimmering “wobbliness” of the sound, I always thought it sounded like the theme from “Tales of the Unexpected” (on the telly in the 70s, often consisting of very darkly comic murder plots).
Anyway I wanted to extend this idea, to think of the two instruments as equal voices as opposed to soloist and accompanist in both the compositions and the open bits...when we recorded “The Butterflies”, I couldn’t really tell who was playing what, still can’t.

Another idea stems from a couple of gigs I did with the Birmingham- based Sabri Ensemble, where North Indian Classical musicians work with jazz players. I got roasted on the rhythmic stuff, but some of that experience seems to have rubbed off on these tunes. To my ears, Drew Gress and Tom Rainey both exemplify this rhythmic flexibility in improvising, almost a compositional approach where one short idea continually expands and contracts, becomes a new idea, a real organic approach. Together, they sound to me at times like a multi-limbed monster devouring the music and spitting it out in skewed variations, all kinds of sounds emerging from the edge of silence to sudden explosions of groove and everything in between. Most importantly, they have that playful quality, always making what you don’t expect sound totally natural (like the “Chewbacca” growls on “A Broken Dream” or the deep resonances of the bass on “Where Do They Go?”).

The contrapuntal rhythmic patterns of pieces such as “Jitters”, “Bunker” and “Enchante” owe a lot to the Sabri encounter, whereas “Therapy” and “Romance” were inspired initially by the combination of timbres in the band. Needless to say, these tunes are merely a springboard for improvisation, and for me what happens at that point is the real motivation for composing”.
Liam Noble from the album notes

liam noble - pianist and composer
After studying music at Oxford University and the postgraduate course at the Guildhall, Noble became the regular pianist with Stan Sulzmann (in both duo and quartet settings) on John Taylor’s recommendation. He went on to work in the bands of Anita Wardell, Harry Beckett, Tim Whitehead and John Stevens as well as recording and touring with cult minimalist composer Moondog. During this period, he also performed with John Taylor (as part of Stan Sulzmann’s two piano quintet), Kenny Wheeler and Lol Coxhill.

Three years after leaving the Guildhall, Noble recorded the solo piano album “Close Your Eyes”, which featured free improvisations, compositions and interpretations of tunes by (amongst others) Ornette Coleman, Annette Peacock and Richard Rodgers. In Jazz Journal Richard Palmer referred to him as “…a writer of considerable idiomatic and emotional range …he knows the instrument’s pantheon from Tatum to Taylor…”

In 1997, he joined the Bobby Wellins Quartet, a band that combines a standard repertoire with a contemporary sense of interaction. A CD, “The Best is Yet to Come” is available on Jazzizit Records. He is also a member of the Christine Tobin Band and the Randy Brecker English Sextet, with whom he recently performed at Cheltenham Festival. A duo project with Paul Clarvis playing music from West Side Story combines well-known material with a “stream of consciousness” improvisatory angle. In April 2002, a commission from Birmingham Jazz resulted in a song cycle based on Japanese Death Poetry featuring the contrasting voices of Kelsey Michael (vocalist with the High Llammas) and Christine Tobin, with Dave Wickins and Chris Biscoe. Noble plays keyboards and samples throughout, marking a new foray into electronica inspired by artists such as Aphex Twin and Arto Lindsay. He is also a regular member of the Julian Siegel Group and appears on Siegel’s much acclaimed recent album “ Close Up ” (Sound Recordings - mactwo).

In 2002 Noble released his highly acclaimed quintet album IN THE MEANTIME (Basho Records). His compositions, highly individual, quirky, sometimes humorous or intensely lyrical demonstrate his continuing interest in combining unorthodox structural design with improvisation using an ensemble of highly contrasting players. Focusing on the multi-reed front line of Stan Sulzmann and Chris Biscoe (on the rarely heard alto clarinet), and the rhythm section of Paul Clarvis and Mick Hutton.

“A highly inventive and thoughtful musician, Noble graces any band he joins, while his own music combines characterful composing with fresh, risk-embracing improvisation..…” “…a brilliant pianist…who hardly plays a solo without at least one turn of phrase that brings you to the edge of your seat”. John Fordham, The Guardian

“Liam Noble is quietly establishing himself as a major voice". Yorkshire Post 4*

“…proves that the spirit of free improvisation is not dead, but has been merely sleeping….Inspirational". Chrissie Murray, Ronnie Scott's Magazine

“An articulate, accomplished affair” Jazzwise 4*

phil robson – guitarist, composer

Born in Derby, UK 1970, guitarist Phil Robson had already enjoyed an exciting career from the age of 14 onwards playing in his home town with such visiting musicians as John Etheridge and Bheki Msleku as well as with his clarinettist father, Trevor Robson. Moving to London at the age of 18, he attended the Guildhall School of Music being one of the youngest students ever to do the post graduate jazz
course at that time. Photo by Gee Vaucher

Phil has worked with Christine Tobin, "Rare Groove" stars Big Jon Patton and Charles Earland, Billy Hart, James Genus, Mark Turner, Kenny Wheeler, John Taylor, Mike Gibbs, Peter Herbert, Tim Garland, Django Bates, Tom Rainey, Stan Sulzmann, Mornington Lockett, Gerard Prescencer, Bobby Wellins, Drew Gress, Alec Dankworth, Iain Ballamy, Jean Toussaint, Wayne Krantz, Gary Husband, Julian & Steve Arguelles, Mike Figgis (film director), BBC bigband etc.

Has played in/at: Berlin, Bulgaria, New York City, South Africa, Syria, Yemen, Ireland, India, Sudan, Malta, Finland, Austria, France, Holland, Spain, Hungary, Lithuania, Latvia, Brecon Jazz festival, Appleby Jazz festival, Cheltenham Festival, Bath Festival, Glasgow Jazz festival, Edinburgh, Ronnie Scott’s, Jazz café, Pizza Express (Dean St.), The Vortex & most UK venues etc.

Has appeared on: Radio 3 - ‘Jazz notes’, ‘Jazz on 3’, ‘Jazz Line Up’, Radio 4 - ‘Loose Ends, Jazz FM, BBC2 - ‘Jazz 606’, Channel 4’ - ‘The Late Show’, RTE 1 - ‘Pat Kenny Show’.

In 1997 Phil won BT "Best soloist of the year " award presented by John Dankworth. In 1998 Perrier Young Jazz award for the best instrumentalist of the year.

Phil co-leads ‘Partisans’ with Julian Siegel (featuring Gene Calderazzo, Thad Kelly). Partisans played at Cheltenham festival 2003 with Wayne Krantz & the gig was recorded by Radio 3’s ‘jazz line up’. Chris Parker & John Fordham hailed the gig as the highlight of the festival.

he leads the Phil Robson Trio (featuring Billy Hart, James Genus) and the Phil Robson Octet (featuring Christine Tobin, Jason Yarde, Karen Street, Julian Siegel, Gene Calderazzo, Thebe Lipere, Steve Watts.

Commissions include Birmingham Jazz in 1999 – Phil Robson Octet - "Beyond the net curtains" Derby Jazz in 2000 – Derwent Suite - PR Octet with the addition of Indian percussionists, the ‘Surtal drummers’ plus a 22 piece steel pan band called "The Pantastics"!

Phil has been a member of the BBC Radio Big Band since May 2002 during which time they have worked with Patti Austin, Jiggs Whigham, Giavanni Hidalgo, Rufus Reid, Vince Mendoza, Madeline Bell, Horatio ‘El Negro’ Hernandez, John Riley, Barbara Dennerlein, Anne Hampton Callaway, Mark Murphy, Georgy Fame, Martin Taylor, Michael McDonald & many more.

“Phil Robson is one of a crop of young UK jazz guitarists who combine the technical expertise of classic beboppers such as Wes Montgomery and Kenny Burrell with the bite and muscle of a post-funk generation raised on Hendrix, Scofield and Metheny.
… He has a varied repertoire of multicultural materials far more deeply rooted in Britain than in Philadelphia or New York.” John Fordham, The Guardian

drew gress – bassist/ composer

Born in Trenton, New Jersey in 1959, bassist/composer Drew Gress has performed extensively with artists comprising the vast field of contemporary improvised music. He was a founding member of the cooperative quartet Joint Venture, whose three Enja albums Joint Venture, Ways and Mirrors all received widespread critical acclaim. He currently leads Jagged Sky, a New York-based quartet performing his original compositions. The band includes Dave Binney, Ben Monder and Kenny Wollesen, and has recently released its debut for the Italian label Soul Note. Gress has toured North, South and Cental America, Europe and Asia, and has served as artist-in-residence at the St. Petersburg Conservatory in Russia and at the University of Colorado-Boulder. He currently resides in New York City. When Gress is not performing with Jagged Sky, he can be heard with the Fred Hersch Trio, the Dave Douglas String Group, Tim Berne's Paraphrase, Andy Laster's Hydra, Erik Friedlander's Chimera, the Paul Smoker Trio, the Marc Copland Quartet, and, on occasion, the Don Byron Quintet. He has also recently incorporated his own pedal steel guitar into his live performances. He recently toured the UK with Stan Sulzmann’s Jigsaw to much critical acclaim and is a currently working with pianist Uri Caine.

“superbly articulate bassist” Thomas Conrad, Downbeat Magazine

tom rainey - percussionist

Percussionist Tom Rainey was born in Los Angeles, California in 1957. Since moving to New York City in 1979 he has performed at festivals and clubs throughout North America and Europe with a wide range of artists, including John Abercrombie, Ray Anderson, Tim Berne, Jane Ira Bloom, Ted Curson, Marc Ducret, George Gruntz, Mark Helias, Fred Hersch, Andy Laster, Joe Lovano, Carmen McRae, Mike Nock, Simon Nabatov, New and Used, Matthias Schubert, Tom Varner, WDR Big Band, Ken Werner and Denny Zeitlen.

Rainey received an National Endowment for the Arts grant to compose and perform a concert of music for percussion and drums featuring Dave Samuels and Arto Tuncboyaci. Currently he is busy with the saxophonist Tony Malaby and pianist Angelica Sanchez, Mark Helias's "Open Loose" group and Tim Berne's various groups including "Hard Cell Trio" and "Science Friction" Trio and Paraphrase.

“Rainey’s playing affirms his status as an undersung fiery poet of the drums.” JAZZ TIMES April 2002

John Fordham, Guardian
Friday October 14, 2005 4 stars

If a song title doesn't make much sense to you, almost any means of passing the time is likely to be more productive than stopping to ask a jazz musician what it means. The gifted and undemonstratively wayward British pianist Liam Noble doesn't explain this one, but a private, absorbing exercise in contemporary jazz pattern-juggling builds up quite enough meaning in its own way without stumbling over the clutter of literal translation.
Noble likes a mixture of staccato, drily witty themes that suggest a collision of Steve Coleman and Django Bates with Wayne Shorter - and with Canadian piano guru Paul Bley in the quieter episodes. This music stems from a set-up organised by the Cheltenham international jazz festival in 2004, when Noble and his regular freebop guitar partner Phil Robson were paired with the innovative American bass- and-drums team of Drew Gress and Tom Rainey.

The set opens with the fast, clattery, up-and-down unison melody of Jitters, which Gress and Rainey join with effortlessly creative aplomb after Noble and Robson's theme statement. The mood shifts for the freely evolving, softly-rippling Therapy; Bunker examines the melodic implications of instruments passing in and out of phase with each other; and Bluebear is an enigmatic guitar/piano theme set up by Rainey's many-layered drumming, which turns into a boppish flyer for the agile Robson.

The title track is a dreamy ebb- and-flow of melodic fragments that keep suggesting new mutations, a common enthusiasm for both the British pair and their American guests. This might sound something of a scholarly, theoretical exercise, but it has an inner energy and quiet vigour that grows on you.

Bev Stapleton AllAboutJazz

If some of the commentary in the jazz press is to be believed, it can only be a matter of time before European jazz musicians sail up the Potomac to burn Washington again. Jazz in America, so the thesis goes, is dead. The baton has been passed to Europe.

Such ideas would presumably be quite puzzling to the musicians on Romance Among the Fishes. This group, under the leadership of British pianist Liam Noble, was put together for a performance at the 2004 Cheltenham Jazz Festival (typical of the visionary programming of director Tony Dudley Evans). Phil Robson, a leading UK guitarist in his own bands, Partisans, and with Christine Tobin, is Noble’s front-line partner. The US contingent is provided by the crack rhythm team of Tom Rainey and Drew Gress.

Liam Noble has been a regular feature of many of the bands touring Britain since the early 1990s. His excellent 2003 recording In the Meantime, with such luminaries as Stan Sulzmann and Chris Biscoe, served notice of a distinctive compositional talent. Romance Among The Fishes should bring his music to a much wider audience.

The cover pictures an aquarium of illuminated fishes, an image that fits perfectly with some of the slower pieces. Most of the material has been composed by Noble, generally quite terse themes that provide knotty jump-off points for the improvisations. Just as in a fish tank a variety of fishes can be seen moving in contrary directions, yet give a sense of common movement, so all four musicians follow highly independent paths, whilst obeying the general direction of the composed music. The opening “Jitters” is built around a pentatonic theme, reminiscent of Debussy in his more Eastern-influenced piano music, though at a cracking pace. “Therapy” is more dreamy, with a beautifully melodic bass solo from Gress and striking solos from Robson and Noble. Three tracks appear to be virtually free improvisations, setting up short duets.

Though in constant flux, this is far from a wild recording, having more in common with the music of Jimmy Giuffre or Lee Konitz. The musicians are not afraid to leave space between the notes, helping to establish a watery, floating feel. Especially impressive in this respect is the concluding title track, where Robson’s guitar is rich in reverb, sounding almost Cuban in texture. The faintly out-of-synch wooziness of the track sums up Noble's musical approach, avoiding clear-cut, finished phrases.

The artificial divisions set up between “European” and “American” jazz are blown apart by carefully crafted collaborations like Romance Among The Fishes. Where the fusion of Ken Vandermark with Norway’s Atomic explores the fiery side of jazz, this four-way collaboration investigates a cooler but no less fascinating aspect.

All praise too to Basho Music, rapidly emerging as one of the UK's most dynamic organisations in promoting and recording contemporary jazz.