An enchanting followup to Song For The Sleeping, Oriole's 2005 debut album, Migration finds guitarist Jonny Phillips' band once again blending exploratory, modern jazz improvisation with world music-inspired original compositions and unusual cross-cultural instrumentation. Brazilian, Venezuelan, Andalucian, Moorish, Cuban and African folk music traditions, experienced by the well-travelled Phillips at source, inform his gentle and lyrical writing.
Oriole includes some of London's most outward looking creative musicians, a like-minded group of British, mainland European, South American and African players, several of them bandleaders in their own right. Cross-connections run wide and deep, and if the music on Migration has a degree of intimacy which suggests it is being made by a group of friends, that's because it is.
Out-there saxophone shaman Ingrid Laubrock co-founded NOIS with Brazilian singer Monica Vasconcelos and also leads her own quintet, which includes the extraordinary improvising cellist Ben Davis and rhythm wizard Sebastian Rochford, both bandleaders themselves. Rochford is the leader of Polar Bear, which sometimes features Laubrock, and co-leads other important outfits. Bassist Anders Christensen played in Paul Motian's Electric Bebop Band for ten years. Guest saxophonist/clarinetist Idris Rahman is co-leader of the Afrobeat-inspired Soothsayers, whose Tangled Roots is setting another strand of the world music scene alight.
If the lineup on Migration sounds like a dream made real, so does the music. Phillips calls it magical realism, music that is at once familiar and dreamlike. He says he aims to fuse elements of fantasy, myth, desire and wanderlust into performances that blur traditional distinctions between what is serious or trivial, melancholic or joyous.
The spell works, and it runs unbroken through the album. A few of the many outstanding moments include Laubrock and Davis' dialogues on "Forms In Dust," where the saxophonist excels with quietly exciting, precisely articulated harmonics and split-tones, "Migration To The Orange Trees," and the closing, Bach prelude-like "Amen;" Rahman and Itauna's clarinet/marimba partnership on the energetic but softly spoken "Bate Calado;" and Rahman's highlife-informed tenor saxophone on "Sunshine Continuous," arranged in a Mozambican/Cuban dance style (Laubrock's affinity with Brazilian music is mirrored by Rahman's authentic Africanisms). Phillips' own crystalline guitar lines delight from start to finish, as do his compositions, and as does Itauna's percussion.
After a long, cold autumn and winter, spring finally came to Britain two weeks ago. I can't think of a better way to celebrate the return of warmth and sunshine than to spin Migration.
Forms In Dust; First Flight; Bate Calado (intro); Bate Calado; Migration To The Orange Trees; We're All Angels; Sunshine Continuous; Two Smiles; Hymn; Last Flight; Amen.
Jonny Phillips: acoustic guitar; Ingrid Laubrock: tenor saxophone; Ben Davis: cello; Adriano
Adewale Itauna: percussion, vibraphone, vocals; Anders Christensen: electric bass (1,2,5,10);
Fernando De Marco: electric bass, cavaquinho (3,7,9); Ruth Gollar: electric bass (6); Sebastian
Rochford: drums. Idris Rahman: clarinet (3,6), tenor saxophone (7,9). Julia Bel, Guillermo
Rozenthuler, Okou: vocals.
In addition to writing and editing for All About Jazz, Chris is editor of the British style/culture/history magazine Jocks&Nerds and consultant Afrobeat historian for Google Arts & Culture and Partisan/Knitting Factory Records.