However compelling the material and accomplished the performers, a jazz trio
comprising only voice, guitar and bass needs to have everything—programming, instrumental/vocal balance, pace and mood—well thought-out and in good order. The options are as numerous as for a larger ensemble, but the stakes are higher; and all three needed to be on top form. So before the Christine Tobin trio began, there was a certain intrigue over their choices—but for those of us who have heard these musicians in other contexts, there was certainly no anxiety. We expected a high-level and engaging performance—and they delivered.
Despite her wide-ranging repertoire, which includes setting the work of Irish poets (Yeats; Muldoon) to music, as well as her own compositions, Christine devoted the evening to an exploration of the Great American Song Book. Every vocalist who approaches this material finds something individual and fresh in the lyrics—variously sweet, sentimental, vividly romantic and rueful—and Christine had a particularly good line in underscoring the emotional qualities of
each: these were performances of character as well as great vocal strength and clarity. It is notable that she was as adept at delivering the delights of the up-beat, jaunty numbers as she was for the slower, more elegiac ones. Her scat singing was deployed sparingly and to good effect; for once, more would have been welcome.
Phil Robson is a superb guitarist, his shifts from chordal to melodic accompaniment so fluid that it was easy to underestimate the level of skill needed to play at this level. And for anyone with even an outline familiarity with the guitar, his runs were a marvel: a thrilling combination of speed and precision, always in the service of the harmonic demands and mood of the piece. In the second set, Christine performed a number from her most recent CD, Pelt, during which Phil deployed guitar loops for the only time in the evening—and it would stand as a textbook example of how guitar enhancements can be deployed sensitively, in the service of the music.
One of the pleasures of this configuration of musicians was to hear Christine’s voice supported by, and gliding between the swift runs of the guitar and the slower and more sonorous bass—all in a highly integrated, all but seamless way. And Dave Whitford’s bass playing had its own singing qualities, evident throughout and not merely during his fine solo turns. His playing was powerful but unshowy—thoughtful and beautifully crafted, with many fine embellishments.
It was a lovely evening of music making, with an intimacy that’s rare in public performances of any kind.
Christine Tobin: Voice
Phil Robson: Guitar
Dave Whitford: Bass
© J. Whitman, 28th October 2017