John L Walters
Wednesday September 6, 2006
Oriole Live @ The Vortex, London
Bands fronted by guitarists are frequently seen as an excuse for wailing and thrashing. Oriole, the sextet led by guitarist Jonny Phillips (part of the dynamic F-IRE Collective), provides plenty of useful evidence to the contrary. Sure, his parts are high in the mix, but he plays an acoustic guitar, specialising in intricate rhythm patterns and free-flowing, Spanish-tinged solos.
The arrangements seem to spring from Phillips’playing, sometimes feeling as if the band were one big guitar, with chiming piano from Nick Ramm and refreshingly understated drumming from Seb Rochford.
Oriole’s regular frontline is the highly effective pairing of tenor sax and cello: superb saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock and Basquiat Strings leader Ben Davis. However, tonight Laubrock is unavailable and Acoustic Ladyland frontman Pete Wareham is deputising.
Migration to the Orange Trees shows Oriole at their best. The piece moves forward with assurance over an unshowy drum groove. There’s a good balance between writing and improvisation: Phillips isn’t afraid to include long through-composed passages, with ace counterpoint, while maintaining the impetus of a jazz performance.
Wareham’s presence as substitute emphasises Phillips’s strengths as band-leader and writer, and adds another slant to the sound. The grandiose Medem/ Temba displays the saxophonist’s muscular style, while the delicate First Flight, with its lovely theme for cello and tenor sax, shows how easily he inhabits the radiant Oriole soundworld.