Jonny Phillips’ Oriole have seemed a little absent from the UK music scene since 2006’s excellent Migration. Phillips spent time living and working in Cadiz (where he wrote much of the music included here) and the band reconvened for occasional gigs with a variety of different line-ups. Oriole’s multi-talented musicians have all matured and grown as artists in their own right, leading their own projects and moving to pastures new (saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock relocated to New York). Keeping the band going must have been a considerable challenge.
For those who have kept pace with Phillips’ work over the past few years, and seen the band perform, many of the compositions will be very familiar (although familiarity by no means diminishes the impact of Phillips’ elegant and resonant melodies). For those unfamiliar with the group’s work, stumbling across Every New Day will no doubt be a source of unexpected joy, for this is the band’s most assured and relaxed work to date. Their blend of world folk music styles with a jazz execution and aesthetic is both accessible and musically refreshing.
Although the music incorporates plenty of informed and articulate improvising and interaction, Phillips’ music has a particularly strong compositional focus, incorporating a range of styles and approaches from around the world and experienced through his extensive travels. Melody remains his singular gift – from the opening Cello of Levante, Phillips’ melodic lines are consistently rich, languid, absorbing and evocative. These are compositions that effortlessly and vividly transport the listener to other times and other places. Temba, Bertha and Between The Mountains And The Sea are among Phillips’ most confident and moving works.
Sebastian Rochford returns on drums, once more showing his sensitivity and versatility. His playing here is a long way from the wilder excursions of Polar Bear or the blazing energy of Acoustic Ladyland. Here, his playing is delicate, expressive and musical – thoroughly comfortable with some of the rhythmic challenges of South American, African and European musical styles and never obtrusive. Together with bassist Ruth Goller, the excellent percussionist Adriano Adewale and Phillips’ own strumming patterns, he anchors a rhythm section that plays with quiet intensity and relaxed authority.
Every New Day sees Oriole more successfully exploring dynamic contrasts and sustained thematic and rhythmic development. Whilst this is not likely to be a band to veer into free and wild territory, the group sounds entirely uninhibited throughout the albums. Idris Rahman’s tenor solo on Mountain Flower seems a prime example, moving from the subtle to the guttural, with the band providing increasingly full and powerful accompaniment. Oriole’s relatively unconventional line-up (at least in British jazz terms) allows Phillips to make considered and effective choices in terms of texture and colour. On Sintra and La Sonrisa Picara, his melodies unfurl slowly, gracefully meandering across the broader geography of his rhythmic and harmonic backdrops. The careful blend of tenor saxophone with Ben Davis’ Cello continues to produce a magical, compelling sound. Throughout, there is a lightness of touch and mature confidence about the ensemble as a whole. This is warm, bright, delightful album that deserves to reach a wider audience.