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Oriole & Ingrid Laubrock Quintet

Live: The Glee Club, Birmingham

by Ian Mann

June 15, 2006


I preferred the Cheltenham set earlier in the year due to the cameo appearances of Julia Biel and Idris Rahman which added even greater variety to the bands wide stylistic palette.

On an almost unbearably hot night in sunny Brum these two bands triumphed over the elements to produce an evening of an excellent music.

It must have been an exhausting night for the musicians, and especially so for Ingrid Laubrock, Ben Davis and Seb Rochford, all of whom were present in both line-ups. Both groups include musicians associated with the innovative London based F-ire Collective and this was a genuine double bill rather than a main act plus support scenario. Although the bands shared some personnel there was a good contrast in the styles of writing and overall sounds of the two groups.

The Ingrid Laubrock Quintet opened the proceedings playing material from Ingrid’s most recent album “Forensic” together with a number of new, as yet unrecorded compositions.

German émigré Laubrock has been on the British jazz scene for a number of years, initially as a member of Nois, the band led by Brazilian singer Monica Vasconcelos.

As a leader Laubrock has released three albums. The Brazilian flavoured “Who Is It?” was released on Candid records in 1998.She remained with Candid for “Some Times” released in 2001 which featured more adventurous compositions and a greater focus on jazz, as opposed to world stylings.

In retrospect “Some Times” can be seen as a transitional album. Few observers were prepared for “Forensic” which was released in 2004. Her most ambitious album yet it revealed a dark and spiky side to her playing and writing which was a great contrast to the sunny world music she was generally associated with. Candid declined to release the album saying it was too heavy and brutal so it was released on F-ire’s own label subsequently garnering great reviews and becoming her most successful album so far.

She has developed so much as a player and writer over the years and is now a genuine all rounder, equally at home with the Brazilian music she still plays as she is with her new, more challenging material.

Tonight’s set commenced with the tune “Stone Lions” from the “Forensic” album, its lilting melody led by Laubrock’s feathery soprano sax. The cello of Ben Davis also featured strongly, Davis playing both with the bow and pizzicato. He is an incredible musician, improvising fluently on an instrument not normally associated with jazz. There is always a melancholy edge to the cello and Davis’ contributions to “Forensic” are highly distinctive and help to give the album its dark, slightly unsettling atmosphere.

The following “Pun Pun”, as yet unrecorded, was a brief squall of declamatory tenor sax and this was followed by “Clara” which appears on “Forensic”. Dedicated to Ingrid’s mother it again featured tenor sax and some fine arco bass from Larry Bartley.

Two new tunes followed;” You are my guinea pigs,” she told the audience. The first was yet to be named and I won’t embarrass Ingrid by revealing its working title! A dark piece, commencing with a bass riff followed by a tenor sax exploration accompanied by the percussive electric piano of Barry Green. It also incorporated a delicious duet between the two bowed instruments, Davis’ cello and Bartley’s bass combining to produce rich, dark, chocolatey sonorities. Marvellous stuff.

Laubrock can’t stay away from Brazilian rhythms for long and the next piece featured the Maracata rhythm that also provided the tune’s working title. Not surprisingly this featured some dynamic drumming from Sebastian Rochford who thus far had proved himself as always to be the perfect accompanist but now had the chance to cut loose.

The ballad “Mirrors” from “Forensic” brought about a complete change of mood. Ben Davis sat this one out. I got the impression that a grand piano should have been provided for the gig, but nevertheless Barry Green coaxed considerable feeling out of his Yamaha electric and with a beautiful, melodic solo from Bartley and Laubrock’s tender tenor this piece was exquisitely played and very beautiful. Ingrid dedicated it to a recently deceased friend. It was a moving and fitting tribute.

The set closed with the serpentine melodies of the “The Power Of The Sulk” or “T.Pots” if you prefer. Played in a tricky 7/4 signature it featured more fireworks from Seb Rochford.

An excellent set then, played in very challenging conditions. The hum of the air conditioning unsettled the musicians and Laubrock enquired about turning off but it was still incredibly hot and as the club management put it “without it you’ll just fry”. The F-ire Collective moniker seemed a little too appropriate tonight as we sweltered in the heat.

Oriole have become something of a favourite on this site. We’ve reviewed their second album, the excellent “Migration” and covered their appearance at Cheltenham Jazz Festival. Tonight’s performance keeps up the high standards we’ve come to expect from them.

Laubrock, Davis and Rochford return to the stage accompanied by Oriole’s leader, guitarist and composer Jonny Phillips plus Nick Ramm on keyboards and Ruth Goller on electric bass.

They kick off with “Forms In Dust” the opening number on the “Migration” album. This is an excellent introduction to the band’s sound. Paced by Phillips’ acoustic guitar this is an excellent ensemble piece featuring the melancholy ring of Davis’ cello, Laubrock’s probing tenor sax and the subtle, shifting rhythms of Rochford. As ever the unfussy keyboards of Ramm help to stitch everything together, a function he performs in other ensembles too. Ensemble playing is very much a feature of Oriole’s music and it is shown to perfection here.

“Migration To The Orange Trees” is inspired by one of Phillips’ favourite places, Jerez in Southern Spain. Consequently the piece has a flamenco flavour opening with the handclapping of Rochford and Ramm before building in intensity as an ensemble piece and incorporating fine solos from Phillips and Davis. It comes full circle and closes with more handclaps.

Phillips is a prolific composer. Nothing from Oriole’s first album “Song For The Sleeping” remains in tonight’s set and five as yet unrecorded tunes are played. He must have the third album planned out already and “Migration” has only been out for just over a month! As if that’s not enough he was also a major contributor to the “Not Alone” album by vocalist Julia Biel.

A new piece “Levante” features next. The title refers to a warm wind from Morocco, which seems to be affecting the British weather at the moment. The tune includes a rare solo from bassist Ruth Goller and also a solo from Phillips himself. On record Phillips is mainly an ensemble player, concentrating on textures and supporting his melodic compositions. In a live context he allows himself more solo space and reveals what a fine player he is with a very distinctive style incorporating classical and Spanish influences. For me elements of his playing are still reminiscent of Ralph Towner.

“Passarinho” is more Brazilian in style with a samba rhythm and is yet another new tune. Nick Ramm is allowed some solo space on keyboards, as is Ben Davis on cello.

For “We’re All Angels Now” from the “Migration” album Laubrock and Ramm take a well-earned breather leaving the remaining quartet to perform this beautiful and joyous piece. There is a wonderful dialogue between guitar and cello delightfully underscored by the rhythm section.

More new material “Medem And Temba” follows incorporating solos from Phillips and Laubrock. This is superseded by yet another fresh tune “Between The Mountains And The Sea” with it’s lovely, lilting folk melody and more fine playing from the composer.

“Southern Train” is also unrecorded and after features from Davis and Ramm Rochford is unleashed to play a brilliantly polyrhythmic solo.

The set returns to the “Migration” album for the closing “Last Flight”/“Amen”. These items also close the album itself and in the way that “Forms In Dust” opened both the album and tonight’s gig there is a certain symmetry here.

All in all another fine set with compositions ranging in mood from the melancholy to the joyous but all with a great melodic sense. Phillips is a fine composer and all the band excellent musicians who played superbly in very taxing conditions.

I have to say I preferred the Cheltenham set earlier in the year due to the cameo appearances of Julia Biel and Idris Rahman which added even greater variety to the bands wide stylistic palette. Also of course it wasn’t so unbearably hot. The heat had definitely affected tonight’s attendance with only around fifty in the audience but even so I think it’s a poor reflection on the city of Birmingham that so few people turned out for music of this quality. The World Cup may also have been a factor (Ingrid would like you to know she’s still supporting Germany).

Thanks to Jonny, Ingrid and Seb for speaking to me after the gig. Ingrid has recorded a duo album “Lets Call This” with pianist Liam Noble for the Babel label which should be well worth hearing. It should have been out by now but the release date has been delayed but everything is complete and it shouldn’t be long now.

Seb tells me that new albums by both Acoustic Ladyland and Polar Bear should be out by the end of the year. If the new material Polar Bear played at Cheltenham is anything to go by these releases should be a major event. Bring it on!

Despite being disappointed by tonight’s attendance Jonny says the album is selling well. The band are having a short break (Jonny is going to Jerez) before re-commencing the tour. Dates are listed at the end of the “Migration” album review.

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