Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Another Enigmatic, Devious Album From Mr. Ho

Mr. Ho’s Orchestrotica began as an Esquivel cover project and quickly expanded to become a vehicle for multi-instrumentalist/percussionist bandleader Brian O’Neill’s erudite grooves, part exotica lounge band, part droll Raymond Scott-esque third-stream ensemble and once in awhile, expanding to become an explosive big band. With the smaller unit, it continues to amaze how big and lush a sound O’Neill gets out of a simple vibraphone/flute/bass/drums quartet. Their first album, a collection of Esquivel tunes, was a mixed bag; their second, Third River Rangoon, a richly woozy, psychedelic glide down a jungle river of the mind. Their third, Where Here Meets There is a suite, more or less: while the compositions don’t segue from one into another, O’Neill sets a mood immediately and maintains it, hypnotic and resonant yet a lot more rhythmic than their previous effort.

The opening track, Chiseling Music, introduces the nebulous, enigmatically minimalist feel that dominates most of these compositions, guest Tev Stevig’s spiky tanbur contrasting with balmy atmospherics. Beginning with echoey hand drum and then a slowly winding vibraphone solo, Sansaz dances, but as if underwater, finally emerging to come face-to-face with the cold, distant menace of that tanbur again. Maracatune for Chalco works a vamping, Esquivelic low-versus-high contrast, bass handling some of the highs, flute some of the lows as it grows more kinetic and then suddenly eerie as percussionist Shane Shanahan comes to the foreground.

Would You Like Bongos with That Fugue? is O’Neill in droll third-stream mode, a dancing Jason Davis bass solo at its center as the atmospherics recede back into the mist. Ritual Mallett Dance – inspired by paradigm-shifting percussionist Chano Pozo, with distant ecchoes of flamenco and cha-cha – mashes up de Falla’s Ritual Fire Dance and Dizzy Gillespie’s Guachi Guaro. They follow that with a Gershwin triptych that makes bouncy bossa out of ragtime, finally sending Geni Skendo’s flute soaring skyward, Peggy Lee’s Siamese Cat Song making a somewhat predictably cartoonish appearance midway through. The album ends with a masterfully misterioso, brooding take of Cal Tjader’s Black Orchid, Stevig managing to fire off an oud solo that doesn’t sound Middle Eastern, looping bass and then ambient flute maintaining a suspenseful edge as O’Neill’s vibes get busy. Adding to the fact that this a fascinating and often very fun album is that there is no band on the planet that sounds remotely like Mr. Ho’s Orchestrotica – not even any of those long-defunct Esquivel ensembles who inspired them.

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November 15, 2013 Posted by | jazz, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Float Away to Third River Rangoon

The original “exotica” music from the 1950s was designed to evoke a cartoonish never-neverland of tiki torches, bikini-clad geishas sipping mai tais at night on the beach, innocuous insectile noises emanating from an utterly benign jungle just a few feet away. Vibraphonist/bandleader Brian O’Neill AKA Mr. Ho’s new album Third River Rangoon, by his shapeshifting ensemble Mr. Ho’s Orchestrotica may have been inspired by that subgenre, but it’s considerably more magical. It leaves far more to the imagination, a lushly nocturnal collection whose most impressive feat of sorcery is getting a simple lineup of vibraphone, bass flute, bass and percussion to create the sweep of a hundred-piece orchestra. The production is genius: Phil Spector couldn’t have done any better than this. Playful and surreal, with an unselfconscious majesty, it’s music to get lost in, just as O’Neill intended. Here he’s joined by Geni Skendo on bass flute and C-flute, Noriko Terada on percussion (and vibes and marimba as well) and Jason Davis on acoustic bass. The tongue-in-cheek title alludes to the third-stream nature of the music, a little jazz, a little classical and more than a little cinematic ambience, like Henry Mancini in a particularly atmospheric moment.

While it’s true that the title track is a deceptively simple, catchy tune with interlocking bass flute and vibes over a bossa-flavored bass pulse, that’s an awfully clinical way to put it: it’s a raft ride under the stars in the subtropical paradise of your dreams. Thor’s Arrival plays an anthemic overture theme gently over a similar staggered bossa beat: it sounds nothing like Grieg or Metallica. Milt Raskin’s Maika plays up an underlying suspense angle, contrasting with restrained yet joyous layers of reverberating vibraphone tones over stately bass; Cal Tjader’s Colorado Waltz downplays the waltz beat (good move) with some memorably offcenter leapfrogging from the flute.

How do you give the Arab Dance from Tschaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite real Middle Eastern cred? Add an oud, of course. That’s Tev Stevig (of Macedonian group Jeni Jol and many other great bands) doubling the flute lines and then kicking in a terse solo that’s Arab, not just Arabesque. O’Neill opens Phoenix, Goodbye, a bright theme that quickly grows duskier, with some distantly tense knocks on a boomy tapan drum. The most direct and surprisingly hard-hitting number here is the noirish Terre Exotique, again bouncing gently on a bossa-ish beat. The jazziest one is Autumn Digging Dance, oud and vibes together, comfortably afloat on the soft, round tones of the bass flute, Sevig contributing a confounding and somehow perfect solo that’s half blues and half levantine. The catchy, slowly swaying, distantly martial Moai Thief nicks a familiar classical theme, while Lonesome Aku of Alewife turns from shadowy allusiveness to a catchy, poppier tune, the bass soloing fat yet incisive over the verse. The album closes with a brief vignette, Lyman ’59, a late 50s noir pop melody done as a lullaby – a funeral for a south Asian dictator’s mistress, maybe. Tune in, turn on, get lost. Mr. Ho’s Orchestrotica plays Otto’s Shrunken Head on June 18 – the classiest band by far to ever play that joint.

June 11, 2011 Posted by | avant garde music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment