by Ian Mann
June 27, 2012
Oriole's mix of jazz and world musics offset with a sometimes classical sensibility is unique and thoroughly organic, combining sometimes apparently disparate elements in a unifying, satisfying whole.
“Every New Day”
(F-ire Records, F-ire CD 51)
“Every New Day” is the long awaited third album from Oriole, the band led by Kendal born guitarist and composer Jonny Phillips. A lot of water has passed under the bridge since the band’s second album, the magnificent “Migration” (2006), gained a rare five star review on these web pages. Phillips has spent much of the intervening years living in Cadiz playing with local musicians and absorbing the music of Andalucia and beyond. Phillips has always harboured a love of Spanish and South American culture and this has been reflected in his richly textured music which also draws on Cuban and African influences, all of this filtered through the English music of his childhood.
It’s a tribute to the quality of Phillips’ writing that he’s been able to reconvene the classic 2006 core line up for this recording. The careers of some of Oriole’s musicians have taken off in the last few years but Phillips has managed to retain the services of the always phenomenally busy Seb Rochford (drums) and has even tempted saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock back from New York to appear on the recording. Regulars Ben Davis (cello), Nick Ramm (piano), Idris Rahman (reeds), Ruth Goller (bass) and Adriano Adewale (percussion) also return to make significant contributions to Phillips’ evocative, finely detailed multi cultural music. Phillips himself plays acoustic guitar, always at the heart of the ensemble, but never dominating, and invariably leaving soloing duties to others. It’s an ego-less approach that works well and is always at the service of the music. There’s nothing flash about the admirable Phillips.
The press release accompanying my copy of the album includes brief notes on the style(s) of each of the tunes and the inspirations behind them. It’s interesting and informative and for a reviewer very useful and enhances the enjoyment and understanding of the music. Maybe they should have been reproduced as part of the album packaging for the benefit of the CD buying public.
In any event the album commences with “Levante”, one of a number of pieces featured here that was already being played live by the group in the immediate post “Migration” era. Described as part Bolero, part waltz “Levante” was written in Cadiz and is a musical evocation of the warm wind of the title that blows in sultrily from Morocco. Davis and Laubrock sketch dark textures above the exotic but understated rhythms of Rochford and Adewale as Ramm and Phillips hold it all together. There’s even a rare solo outing for Phillips but essentially this is a delightful ensemble piece that encapsulates the evocative, often beautiful Oriole sound.
“Mountain Flower” features Rahman’s rich tenor soaring above the Brazilian “Baiao” rhythms laid down by the ensemble. There’s also a gently funky electric bass solo from Goller and Rahman’s contribution is magnificent, but once again the real focus is on the group sound, Phillips has lost nothing of his flair for arranging and eye for detail.
Rochford’s military flavoured drums provide a bridge into the closely linked “Sintra”. Here Phillips deploys the Maracatu rhythms of Northern Brazil to describe the beautiful Portugese mountain top village that gives the piece its title. Nick Ramm is the featured soloist here, sometimes playing unaccompanied. The pianist is one of the relatively unsung heroes of the F-ire Collective, a resourceful and versatile musician who can play in a variety of contexts.
“La Sonrisa Picara” (the mischievous or mysterious smile) has been played in a variety of styles from waltz to flamenco. For the recorded version Phillips has used a Venezuelan rhythm and also allowed himself some solo space on exquisitely plucked acoustic guitar. Ben Davis also features prominently on cello, displaying both depth of feeling and an admirable agility.
“Medem/Temba” is another item that has been in the group’s repertoire for a long time. The segue honours both the Spanish film director Julio Medem and the boy Sherpa Temba, the youngest person to climb Everest. “Medem” is a richly textured piece that catches something of the mood of Medem’s melancholic films. It segues into the more optimistic “Temba”, a 3/4 samba buoyed by a rich rhythmic undertow and with memorable solos by Ramm on piano and Laubrock on earthy tenor sax.
Similarly “Between The Mountains And The Sea” is another composition that dates back to the time of the “Migration” album. A delightful folk flavoured waltz the piece is a highly melodic celebration of the landscapes of Southern Europe. Laubrock and Ramm are once again the featured soloists but Davis and Phillips also show up well in yet another superlative group performance.
“Sherpa Song” is the second piece to take its inspiration from the mountain people of Nepal. The infectious folk melody is the jumping off point for an emotive sax solo from Idris Rahman. The overall mood is celebratory with Rahman’s soaring contribution fuelled by a rich tapestry of underlying rhythms
The title track is a life affirming tune in the Afro-Brazilian Afoxe style. Phillips describes it as a “happy gospel tune” and as “a traveller song, celebrating the potential of Every New Day on the road”. The piece contains an engaging drum/percussion battle underpinned by the sound of Davis’ cello, the latter apparently mimicking the fiddle players of northern Brazil.
The two linked pieces entitled “Bertha” were originally commissioned by Derby Jazz Festival and honour Phillips’ grandmothers, both from the Derby/Nottingham area and both coincidentally named Bertha. The drum free “Bertha(intro)” recalls the classical and church music of Phillips’ youth, a kind of chamber jazz episode voiced by dark hued cello and saxophones. The lighter, airier “Bertha Main Theme” is more celebratory in tone, again with a gospel theme but matched with African rhythms to bring something of the spirit of Abdullah Ibrahim’s township jazz to the proceedings. Nick Ramm delivers an appropriately Ibrahim like piano solo but once again it’s the ensemble sound that impresses most, the rich colours underscored by the gentle patter of drums and percussion.
“Every New Day” has been a long time coming but it’s been well worth the wait. Phillips’ mix of jazz and world musics offset with a sometimes classical sensibility is unique and thoroughly organic, combining sometimes apparently disparate elements in a unifying, satisfying whole. Emotions range from the melancholic to the celebratory in a perfectly natural way, nothing sounds forced, and the richness of texture and attention to detail is once again there in abundance in Phillips’ warm but skilful arrangements. The saxophones, particularly Laubrock, add a touch of grit and, on occasion, a degree of artful dissonance to the arrangements. Oriole’s highly melodic music is pleasant and often easy on the ear but never bland. Phillips is a skilled composer and a great melodicist and there are some great tunes here. Overall the album probably falls just short of “Migration” which also included contributions from additional musicians including vocalist Julia Biel.
Phillips has stated that he intends to go travelling again, both to Spain and across into Africa. Let’s hope that he’s not away for quite so long this time and comes back with the material for the next Oriole album. Nobody else sounds quite like them.
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