Kenny Mathieson looks at a new direction in the music of Orphy Robinson.
For a man who started his musical career playing xyl0phone in a marching band in Hackney. Orphy Robinson has come a long way in order to reach the sophisticated musical fusion of his debut album When Tomorrow Comes (Blue Note). Co-written with keyboard player Joe Bashorun. and featuring a five-piece band known as Annavas, the music represents a very different direction to the more jazz-oriented path he explored with The Jazz Warriors or Andy Sheppard.
‘Yeah, with Annavas I wanted to try to get to something which was different from all the other bands I‘d been in, and also something which was not based around a saxophone or trumpet sound. I wanted instruments which would blend more with the marimba, like ﬂute, or cello, or the kora, so that it would have that darker sound, but would still be really expressive. As far as the music goes, Annavas is like a reflection ofeverything going on around us in London. There is a reggae steppers thing, classical, Latin, funk, African, jazz, all
Both When Tomorrow Comes and his two contributions to the subsequent Pyrotechnics project underline that determination to move in different directions. There are times when the idioms employed do not sound as fully integrated as they might, or possibly will — it must be remembered that Annavas is still
a fairly new group. with a lot of development potential to be fulfilled. There is. however, an awful lot of thoughtful and impressive music-making in evidence. and a refreshing variety and originality to the textural and orchestral voicings within the music.
Both Vibraphone and marimba can sound a little cocktail-lounge in the wrong hands, but Orphy‘s palpable awareness ofthat inbuilt limitation ofthe instrument has helped to ensure that his own ﬂuid, inventive playing consistently avoids the trap. His work fuses elements ofboth the main lines ofvibraphone technique. which is to say either approaching it pianistically, as favoured by Gary Burton. or treating it more as a linear, horn-like instrument. in the
Joe Bashorun and Orphy Robinson
manner ofMilt Jackson. Orphy works somewhere in between. mixing flowing single lines with a love ofbreaking up the rhythm and introducing unexpected accents.
Orphy and Annavas are at The Blue Note on Fri 8 and Sat 9, while his former employer, saxophonist Andy Sheppard, makes a Oueen‘s Hall appearance with his electric quintet In Co-Motion on Fri 14. The dissolution ofthe Antilles label in the UK has left Andy temporarily without a record contract . but he is currently in an advanced state of negotiations with another major British company, not famed for the speed at which they operate in making signings. Just ask Tommy Smith. Or Orphy. . .
A low years ago, the BBC look iazz pianist and historian Dick Hyman into a studio in London, and recorded his pianistlc impressions of jazz history, from ragtime and stride through to Cecil Taylor (‘I can only keep this up tor about twenty seconds’). it ended with Hyman playing himseli, on an improvisation based on Thad Jones’s
tune ‘A Child Is 80m“.
The programme was called ‘The Honky-Tonk Protessor', a title which neatly captured the extremes oi Hyman’s experience in the music. His scholarly grasp of the subject - he even looks protessorial - was hugely impressive, but he Ieamed a lot of what he knows on the bandstand, working with legendary names like Charlie
Parker and Lester Young, among many others.
At the same time, Hyman developed into a skiliul orchestrator, arranger and composer. He had a classical training
in New York, and has worked in studies, television, and film (including preparing lilm scores ior another well-known iazzianatic, Woody Allen), as well as writing many arrangements tor big bands and commercial groups.
Hyman will pull all these many strands oi experience and expertise together in two large-scale works which receive their European . premieres at the Festival. His ‘Piano Concerto’ and ‘Friendly Conversation For Jazz Band And Symphony Orchestra' will term the centrepiece oi the Gala Concert at the Usher Hall on Thurs 13, but they will not be his only contribution to the event.
Two days before that, he will demonstrate his clean, precise technique as well as his extensive knowledge of early jazz styles in the company of the boisterous Jay McShann, in a two-piano concert billed as ‘From Kansas City To New York’ at The Queen's Hall. (Joe Alexander)
Barbara Ann Shorts
The Edinburgh lntemational Jazz Festival has long ceased to be an event devoted almost entirely to traditional jazz, but its roots remain very firmly in that sector of the music. A perusal of the programme (distributed free for the ﬁrst time this year) will reveal a number of contemporary artists but the bulk of the music still falls into the pre-Bebop idioms.
It is not surprising, then, that the Festival should have opted to inaugurate its newest venue by turning it into the New Orleans French Quarter, complete with Creole cuisine. Slateford Road is scarcely Bourbon Street, but the Caledonian Brewery will be doing its damnedest to convince you otherwise, and if much of the music is really no more authentic than the setting, nobody will bother too much so long as it swings hard enough.
New Orleans is also the setting for the jazz revue Salty Dog, which will have its premiere performance outside the USA at the Queen’s Hall (Sat 8—Wed 12). It stars an American cast, including singers Barbara Ann Shorts, Linda Castle and Larry McDonald, and was written by Austin Sonnier Jr, a Louisianian who has added nineteen new songs to the seven traditional pieces included in the show, set in the Salty Dog Ballroom in 1925.
According to Sonnier, they try to evoke ‘the ﬂavour of good times, and the roistering that was common in certain parts of New Orleans at that time. The work was inﬂuenced by all the high-class steppers, blues-singing madams, gold-plated hustlers, and assorted Storyville relics who dedicated themselves to making New Orleans the dream that it is.’ (George MacKay)
14 The List 31 July- 13 August 1992