Thursday, February 21, 2013

Iris Ornig: No Restrictions

Iris Ornig Music
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: No Restrictions

You can count the female jazz acoustic bassists on the fingers of one hand. Many ladies are proficient on the electric instrument, particularly in the rock world, but in the last few years only Esperanza Spalding and Iris Ornig stand out on the upright. The former, also a vocalist, has received all kinds of coverage. Ornig isn’t as well known, but — for my taste — is a better instrumentalist.

She was born in Germany and studied music in Switzerland and England, before moving to New York City in 2003. She’s a composer, arranger and leader as well as an excellent bassist; she performs regularly in New York City’s many jazz venues. 

No Restrictions, her second album, features an instrumentation format which — by today’s standards — is unique; she uses a full rhythm section (piano, bass, drums and guitar), while the customary sax is replaced by a trumpet, played by Michael Rodriguez. He’s one of the best on his instrument that I’ve encountered in some time; his melodic lines are extremely tasteful, and his tone is to die for. Kurt Rosenwinkel’s guitar adds tremendously to the aforementioned rhythm section, which also includes the excellent Helen Sung (piano), Marcus Gilmore (drums) and Ornig (acoustic bass). 

This is a really smooth group, which plays what I’d describe as “afternoon jazz.” Several years ago, the city of Portland, Oregon, sponsored a series of summer concerts that took place in a City Center Park every Thursday; the events were called “P-Nut Butter and Jazz.” Folks would gather during the lunch hour and listen to performances by various local artists, and everyone had a ball. The groups were quite talented, and the event gave listeners a happy buzz. 

Ornig’s combo reminds me of the music that came out of those concerts: relaxing and restful, yet spirited. Eight of these 10 tracks are composed and arranged by Ornig; the other two are covers of Bjork’s “Venus as a Boy” and Michael Jackson’s “The Way You Make Me Feel.” It all swings politely, and the latter track establishes a sleek, traditional-jazz groove, which showcases Ornig’s bass chops at their best.

This is a promising quintet, offering excellent artists and content. 

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