Daily jazz blog, Marlbank

Chronosphere, an introductory track from Tau Ceti, streams

For avant jazz (in the sense of free-improv or 'free jazz'), I usually turn to Intakt, Trost and Cleanfeed among the best labels to source reliable new releases. And over the last year Astral Spirits has catapulted into the same bracket to join that …

Published: 31 Mar 2020. Updated: 4 years.

For avant jazz (in the sense of free-improv or 'free jazz'), I usually turn to Intakt, Trost and Cleanfeed among the best labels to source reliable new releases. And over the last year Astral Spirits has catapulted into the same bracket to join that deeply uncompromising list, mainly because of the superb Zoning released last autumn.

And now Tau Ceti augurs well going on listening so far. Here The Thing bassist Ingebrigt Håker Flaten is the best known member of this exploratory trio, percussionist Lisa Cameron, and guitarist Tom Carter, a little Derek Bailey/Joe Morris-like on the lead-off track, completing the line-up. The album takes its name from one of the closest and most Sun-like of stars. SG

Listen to 'Chronosphere' ahead of the album's April release.


The lead-up to lockdown, NYC. How the world can change in 3 weeks

By Phil Robson. Feb 27, JFK terminal 5. I met up with my colleague and friend, saxophonist Aaron Johnson. We were heading for Portland Oregon to do a west coast mini-tour Aaron had put together. We talked about the coronavirus while waiting in the …

Published: 30 Mar 2020. Updated: 4 years.

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By Phil Robson.

Feb 27, JFK terminal 5.

I met up with my colleague and friend, saxophonist Aaron Johnson. We were heading for Portland Oregon to do a west coast mini-tour Aaron had put together. We talked about the coronavirus while waiting in the usual huge queue to get through security. Covid-19 (I don’t think I knew that term yet) still hadn’t really become a reality for me, or most of the country, but I’d been reading about China and Italy and the spread of the virus globally of course. I’d already felt the paranoia on public transport, when using buses and the subway. I’d also recently travelled back from Europe, so had already experienced a more widespread usage of masks beginning to happen and had sensed the escalation. On that recent flight to NYC, a girl had sat next to me wearing a mask on the window side. Whenever she needed to speak to me, she lifted the mask which slightly defeated the object. As we boarded the plane for Oregon, I joked about that girl, the situation and general musician stuff and we set off for the trip in high spirits.

Five days later, coming back, I wasn’t laughing about anything much at all the airport. The entire atmosphere had already changed. I’d had a great time and fun gigs, but whilst in Oregon, the first two cases had struck there and all the news from around the world was very scary. Corona was clearly in the USA in a big way. There were way more masks being worn and the handwashing advice was loud and clear everywhere. The feeling was sombre to say the least, people were looking scared and I wondered, how will it be in New York? Everything had changed. People were trying to carry on normally as best as they could while heeding the new advice coming out. Masks may, or may not work, keep washing your hands, keep your distance, cough into your elbow, the warmer weather will end it soon, etc. I did a gig in midtown and on the late-night journey home, I looked around at the dirty subway carriage, packed with people coughing and sniffing (which is normal in early-March with change of season colds) and thought, wow, New York is not prepared. I have to mention that the weather had been crazily mild. Normally, at that time of year it can be freezing and I’d seen one guy in T-shirt and shorts in Manhattan. It’s impossible to be totally non-political in my account of events, as I experienced them and to not mention that the regime leadership was pretty much useless, with endless “doing a great job” rhetoric, no substance and most importantly, zero plan.

I was really looking forward to playing at Mezzrow with my partner Christine (Tobin) and bassist Sam Bevan on March 10th. We’d rehearsed a couple of days before and were feeling great about the music we’d prepared. We’d backed off from using public transport as much as possible and were now either walking whenever we could, or taking tense Uber journeys, with masked drivers who were very vulnerable. No one wanted to be in confined spaces with strangers.

I hadn’t been going out for a few nights but the news was full of rising virus cases and speculation. The Mezzrow night finally came around. We were due to start at 7:30pm and had arranged to get in around 6:40. I stopped in at my favourite bar, The Kettle Of Fish, for a quick beer before to shake off the journey and get in the zone to play. I already had a sense that the village was very quiet and far from its normal self.

Mezzrow is a lovely, intimate venue to play in and certainly one of my favourites. I really enjoyed the gig and we were very happy to see friends – and saxophonist Jed Levy sat in with us. Having had great houses when we’d played there previously, it was now clear that people were scared to come out as it was a pretty small audience. We heard throughout the night that everywhere in town was the same. I talked to a young bartender in the club and she expressed her fear of how she’d cope if it carried on this way. We both sadly knew it would get worse, but I tried to react in a lighthearted manner.

The next few days are a blur. Everything in my calendar was being cancelled, along with everyone else I knew. April, May, oh no really, surely not June? We were particularly sad to lose the Against The Grain concert planned for St Patrick’s Night by the great Irish poet Paul Muldoon at National Sawdust in Brooklyn. It was to feature Sjón amongst many other leading lights from the literary world, and myself and Christine were looking forward to playing in a trio with the pianist Jim Ridl. We agreed that closing was the right decision to make of course.

I played a few more smaller gigs before that, including a slightly claustrophobic jam session under the circumstances, as it now felt unsafe to be doing any of this. The city was rapidly grinding to a halt. Mayor De Blasio was still saying that the kids should stay in school but he backtracked on that a few days later; Trump was Trump and the city now felt like a headless chicken, although Governor Cuomo was appearing to instigate sensible measures. The middle classes were becoming less and less visible, particularly at night. The subway felt edgy (so did I) and the city was grinding to a halt, despite occasionally walking by a few scenes of “its the end of the world, so let’s party!” Let’s not forget, though, there were many activists and great people who were very aware and conscientious and were fighting hard for the proper measures to be in place, i.e. some kind of lockdown. On the last gig I did, the host joked “look, it’s not gonna get mad max!” We laughed nervously as we sanitised our hands and the equipment being used, while practising social distancing, which is hard to do on stage.

Finally word came to close up all concerts, gatherings, pubs, clubs.

Mar 27, JFK, Terminal 5.

I myself left NYC with Christine on March 17th changing flights to an earlier date, losing more money, after much stress and uncertainty, when borders were closing rapidly. However, we’re currently safe and sound in the west of Ireland. This trip to Ireland was not due to Covid-19 and had been planned and booked far in advance of this situation.

However, I was due to return to NYC on April 3rd, but needless to say this is currently not possible, due to the travel ban, plus of course all gigs are suspended until further notice, including the ‘Tobin’s run on 51’ in the Irish Arts Center, NYC, planned for Apr 8th. It was going to be based around the theme Jazz at the Movies and was to feature the spectacular line-up of Jed Levy, Steve Wilson, Steve Nelson, James Genus, Alvester Garnett plus Christine and me. We hope to reschedule it at a later date.

The Irish countryside is a wonderful place to be during this time so I’m grateful to be here. I’m saddened to learn, since my arrival in Ireland, that Sligo festival, Derry and many other great events have been cancelled, as they have around the world. I worry about my friends here, the US and the UK. I myself am finding it an interesting challenge to structure my days in isolation, but this is a great learning opportunity. For years my entire focus has been on what was coming up next. I have good intentions to practise things I’ve always wanted to do, write music, read more, keep up my daily walks and eat as well as possible.

I had already quit smoking last July but I then got hooked on vaping which I quit three nights ago. I’ve been doing some online guitar lessons which is great and I intend to do more if possible and find different ways to do it (small groups, 1-to-1, etc). I enjoy keeping up with friends by the various Internet means. I’m on most forms of social media but I’m rapidly feeling a need to distance myself from it, other than at certain stages of the day for the sake of my own mood. I can easily be sucked into a lot of negativity there.

My intention with this article is to capture a snapshot of time, knowing that it was similar for many others, in cities and towns around the world. As I write this, I don’t know the outcome. Some people I know already have contracted the virus and it’s horrible to hear news of the rising death toll and cases everywhere. I wish everyone the very best and please keep safe. This will pass. If anyone is interested in my online lessons please contact me through http://philrobson.net/ or https://www.facebook.com/phil.robson.12. You can buy my music here.

Phil Robson is a British guitarist/composer/educator. Photo top: Whirlwind.