Brian O’Neill’s group, Mr. Ho’s Orchestrotica, may be one of the most inventive jazz groups running. Their The Unforgettable Sounds of Esquivel re-imagined the work of the “Busby Berkley of Cocktail Music” into a captivatingly strange musical fantasy, one that bobbed and weaved with sheer imagination and flair.
When Third River Rangoon, Mr. Ho’s Orchestrotica is back with their “Exotica for Modern Living” series. This time, it’s the vibraphone ensemble at work. The group features O’Neill (compositions/vibes/percussion), Geni Skendo (bass flute), Noriko Terada (percussion), and Jason Davis (bass). Tev Stevig of Klezwoods and Kafana sits in on oud.
What we have here is an album of rhythm and mystery. While their homage to Esquivel came coated with neon and lounge glitz, Third River Rangoon is made up of bites of the South Pacific and the Caribbean. There are notes of Middle Eastern flavour dancing on the palette, too, and a sheer prescription of classic sentimentality to gel it all together like one of those hokey tiki bars.
With the lights too low to see anything and the mai tais flowing with copious amounts of cheap rum, Mr. Ho’s Orchestrotica brings its exotica into the fray.
The tracks, 11 of them, fuse together with colourful chic. Eight of the pieces are O’Neill’s compositions and he draws on everything from Albanian to Bulgarian influences. The mesh of sound and style is something special.
The title track sets things off by coasting into a effortlessly rhythmic bearing, complete with familiar-sounding flute refrain, that sweet-talks pure daydreaming from restive heads.
The magical mystery continues through tracks like the Albanian drone-touched “Phoenix, Goodbye” and the mystical “Colorado Waltz,” with each portion presenting a diverse representation of fantasy that still fits in with the greater whole and theme of Third River Rangoon.
The small, intimate group is the perfect touch to these pieces, as nothing sounds crowded or overly bombastic. The grooves are unique and the musicianship is stunning, but the real marvel is in how Mr. Ho’s Orchestrotica manages to totally transport its listener with each enchanted, extraordinary release.