Guitarist Phil Robson is back on this side of the Atlantic. After living in New York for five years – in Jersey City, across the Hudson River from Lower Manhattan – he and his partner Christine Tobin returned in March 2020 and are currently based in County Roscommon in Ireland, where he both benefits from and participates in the country’s “wonderfully creative art scene”. He has a new EP/Album called ‘Portrait in Extreme’, which will be released on Lyte Records on the 25thand March 2022. Here he reflects on his time in New York, explains some of the background to the new album, and looks forward to touring with saxophonist Jed Levy. Sebastian Scotney Email Interview.
London Jazz News: You described your new EP as “a fun snapshot of aspects of my life between February 2020 and fall 2021”. What can that mean?!
Phil Robson: Ha, yes, that’s a good question, which deserves some clarification! What I meant by that was that while this has been a very difficult time for me, as for most people, in my desire to reflect some of the crazy extremes of the pandemic era across the music, my intention was to do it with an element of humor plus a sense of detachment. I really hope the result will be both entertaining, exciting and moving for the listener. I had been thrown into the unknown, into an environment that was the opposite of where I came from, and many of the world events that happened throughout that time were very serious and sad. Despite this, there were also many moments of beauty, reconnection with nature, tranquility and fun, and other positive aspects, which is why I called it “Portrait in Extreme”.
LJN: We know you as a guitarist but you have FIVE credits here…including vocals?!
PR: That’s right. I play a lot of different types of guitar here, including acoustic folk on one track, as well as a lot of varied electric styles, but on the recording I also play electric bass (borrowed from Eddie Lee from Sligo Jazz), plus I used electronic software like much of the sound world, as well as sang my own lyrics in a Black Sabbath pastiche/tribute for the last track. I wrote all the music and it all tells a story, even if it was just revisiting a lot of music that had influenced me over the years as a listener, which I certainly did on a number of times during the pandemic.
I also designed the cover… and made this promotional video:
LJN: And you got acquainted with a new technology – what the bottom there?
PR: Yes, I learned how to use Ableton Live 11 Suite software, as well as record programs such as Reaper, and download various plugins, etc., all of which were new to me, although I always wanted to get in more in this area. At the end of the second great lockdown (which was very strict in Ireland), I was incredibly grateful to receive a grant from the Arts Council of Ireland, called a music grant, which was to allow me to expand my practice. I chose to use it to purchase the software, take lessons, and it basically brought me back to thinking about music and sound at a crucial time. Before that, I started to disconnect more and more from my own music, but having a project soon led me back to hearing music in my head again, practicing guitar and writing music. music as well as to experiment with the software and the sonic possibilities. My technical mentor was Alex Bonney who pointed me in the right direction with Ableton during a few online sessions, while also giving me great recording tips. I mixed the album myself, but Alex did the final master, which he did a wonderful job of. He is also a very good trumpeter and an old friend.
LJN: Can you reflect on your time in New York..
PR: New York was a great experience and I had been a long time visitor since the late 90’s so it was something I always wanted to do and always wanted to be a part of, at some point of my life. I intend to continue to build on all the good work I’ve done in New York in the future and continue to play there as often as possible, while still living where I live. Christine and I also formed very strong musical friendships and partnerships there, like the one I have with a master saxophonist/composer. Jed Levy. The co-directed band we formed to play our own compositions, has played regularly at major venues in New York such as Birdland, Smalls, the 55 Bar, etc., as well as tours in California and Europe and we have intend to continue in the future. We will be playing in the UK, Ireland, Italy and elsewhere in Europe in September 2022 and beyond.
LJN: Were there any musical highlights, either playing or hearing music legends, moments when your jaw really dropped?
PR: There were many magical moments in New York and we took full advantage of the music scene. The world is a much smaller place than it used to be, so it’s not so much about who we saw, but more about being able to see these artists in very intimate and informal clubs/settings, to a way that is largely unique to New York. I tend to prefer watching bands play specially written material, so I have very fond memories of seeing the Renee Rosnes group at the Vanguard (with Chris Potter, Peter Washington Lenny White), John Scofield at the Blue Note, Billy Child ‘Map to the Treasure’ at the Jazz Standard (with Steve Wilson, Adam Rogers, Alicia Olatuja etc.), Billy Hart Quartet several times and other friends such as Wayne Krantzwhich we went to see almost every week at some point when we first moved there.
I also loved being able to casually see star players like Joe Lovano, Roy Hargrove, Victor Lewis, Buster Williams, Peter Bernstein, Lew Tabackinthe deceased great pat martino…and the list is endless. Other times I saw equally inspiring music from pianist friend Jon Davis and many others, and was a huge fan of the master guitarist. Vic Juris, which unfortunately is no longer with us. I watched her wonderful threesome with Adam Nussbaum and Jay Anderson many nights at 55 Bar and yes my jaw dropped at the things he could do!
Needless to say, I played with all these people I could, including an informal session with Lee Konitz in his apartment, which I will never forget! Outside of the jazz world, I’ve seen Thomas Adesthe opera “The Exterminating Angel” at the NY Met, which is one of the best things I’ve ever seen in my life, and I’ve enjoyed all the great cinemas in New York, the punk concerts, the electro , heavy metal and all sorts of interesting places and things I’ve seen. I could, of course, speak just as lyrically about all the amazing things I’ve seen/heard in London over the years, but I’ll stop now!
LJN: And more generally – how has your time in NY changed you… or is it too early to tell?
PR: I think it’s always hard to say these things about yourself and I think we all grow from new and intense experiences. It’s especially difficult to comment on this at this time, because the world of musicians and live music that I described in the last answer, has basically come to a standstill for two full years. We are all still in the process of getting back on our feet, and there are some very nasty things happening in the world as I write this, but I am very optimistic about the future, and hope that we will see a incredible explosion of creativity around us. the world when we go through this. There’s a wonderfully creative art scene in Ireland and I’m looking forward to meeting more and more people within that too, as well as forming new projects etc, like the duo I already have with the drummer David Lyttle. He is also the owner of Lyte Records on which the label ‘Portrait in Extreme’ will be released.
Thanks for your great questions! I hope to see you all soon.
Portrait in Extreme was released on Lyte Records on March 25, 2022
CONNECTIONS Phil Robson on Bandcamp,