Review: Jonny Phillips’ Oriole, plus Django Bates’ Beloved Bird

Jonny Phillips’ Oriole plus Django Bates’ Beloved Bird
(Kings Place, May 29th 2011, final day of F-IRE Rhythmic Frontiers Festival. Review and photos by Roger Thomas)

The Next Generation Big Band, made up of students from the Royal Academy of Music, had started the day’s proceeings, but it was the evening pincer movement with Django Bates leading the Hall One flank and Jonny Phillips’ Oriole heading the Hall Two flank that gave a ‘mission accomplished’ feel for F-IRE’s 3-day Festival.

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This was less of a battle though, more like a musical Peace Corps, with Django expressing his love of Charlie ‘Bird’ Parker through the Beloved Bird theme and Jonny Phillips his love of all nations through all-embracing compositions tinged with the influences of Spain, South America, North Africa.

Much may have been been written about Django and his latest album – it has. Parker’s music may have been been done to death – discuss. Django’s interpretations, however, with his trio consisting of Swedish bass player Petter Eldh and Danish drummer Peter Bruun did give fresh and insightful perspectives into the music of the Godfather of Be-Bop. Some of the sparse intoductions by the piano and occasional subtle palm-work by Bruun across the toms offered playful moments – you’re trying to guess exactly which part of Bird is about to take flight. But it would only take a slight innuendo from Petter Eldh’s bass or from the Steinway for a smile of recognition to come across the faces of the audience as the full workings of Django’s arrangement were revealed.

In ‘Star Eyes,’ a particular favourite of mine, the rhythmic interplay nicely pulsated by Eldh’s bass created an atmosphere almost like that of a school playground game of tag which at those moments of release where you could imagine yourself making a dash for it and the band fully swinging I found myself forced to gleefully to sing the melody. Successively, each song continued to draw out introspection, excitement and surprise.

At one point when Django came to the microphone to introduce the trio, with set list in hand (and tongue in cheek) he said that he would be leaving the set list on the stage at the end of the show for anyone who wish to know the names of the songs to come up and look. For the more avid Bird devotees in the audience I’m sure they wouldn’t find it necessary as the treatment of each of each song by Django and the band was lovingly crafted so no matter how far out an arrangement would be taken the essense was always there and in some cases I could imagine the original 78rmp or vinyl record of the song playing in the background perhaps it was just me but what was clear was the fact that the audience was also loving the performance because at the end of the show they wasted no time in stomping up an encore.

Meanwhile across in Hall Two Jonny Phillips’ Oriole was also giving up the love. The love of all things experienced from far flung places. You could almost class Jonny as a vulture of different cultures, a man who seems to feed off exoticism and see nothing idle about sitting on a beach in Cadiz to catch whatever influences might be blowing in the wind. Which is exactly what was the inspiration for the opening composition Levente which is described as a wind that blows from North Morocco across the Mediterranean to southern Spain.

Cellist Ben Davis started the wind with some evocative lines gathering pace from from the arpeggiated subtleties of Nick Ramm on piano joined by some light drum work of Bosco de Oliveria and percussive sounds of Barak Schmool. The wind had left the North African shores and was in full sail by the time the whole ensemble of Ruth Goller – bass, Idris Rahman – sax and Jonny on guitar were now blending all the elements of the regions travelled.

The evening was dedicated to performing the entire works of the new album currently being finished off. The compositions are light and refreshing taking you to places of serenity as well as joyous celebration.

Originally to be titled ‘Mementos’ Jonny stated that he has decided to change the name of the album saying although it is in part a celebration of moments and people that have past he didn’t feel comfortable with a backward looking sentiment. “All those moments were spontaneous and people forward thinking. When i sat and listened to the finished recording it made me remember that each tune was born from the excitement of living ‘Every New Day'”

Jonny went on to say “I’m very proud of the recording and my band and can’t wait to share it with people”, to which I’m sure there are lots of us out there for whom the wait until September – when ‘Every New Day’ is scheduled to be released – will feel like a long one.

In the meanwhile I hope that F-IRE keeps burning bright.

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