Daniel Rorke / Oscar Noriega / Simon Jermyn / Matthew Jacobson ‘Naked Allies’ LP (Orenda) 4/5

With his new album, ‘Naked Allies’, Irish – Australian tenor and alto saxophonist Daniel Rorke builds a bridge between Dublin, his current base and New York. He joins forces with fellow Dublin musician Matthew Jacobson on drums and New York-based musicians Simon Jermyn on bass and Oscar Noriega, alto sax and bass clarinet. Rorke has lived and worked in Iceland, Norway and Australia playing with Hilmar Jensson, Per Oddvar, Rune Nergaard and Alister Spence to name but a few. Five of the seven tracks on Naked Allies are original compositions by Rorke, the remaining two by frequent collaborator Jacobson. The album was recorded last year at Figure 8 Studios, Brooklyn, New York and is one of the first releases on Orenda Records, a small Southern California based label.

The title track, ‘Naked Allies’, weaves its horn theme intro with precision, two saxes soon alternate solos but there’s a competitive edge here as the exchange becomes a more heated abstract expression before returning to the structure of the introductory riffing. All the while the submerged throb of the electric bass gives the piece a satisfying disconnect with what’s going on higher in the register. Jermyn’s bass almost sounds as if it is leaking into the recording from an adjacent studio, giving the tune a uniquely juxtaposed sound.

The second track, ‘I’m Benter’, begins with soothing low key tone and pace. Here the bass sounds more acoustic, sketchy and playful. The drums tap around the sax as it gently ebbs and flows, the whole thing has the atmosphere of the city in the small hours, the sax mimicking the background urban sounds of passing traffic or a distant freight train. Drums and bass increase in volume incrementally picking out a groove.

‘Shitbearder’, an eye catchingly titled song, and probably my favourite, provides an extremely funky variation on the sounds already introduced to us with bass and drums tightly clipped but right on target as they build around the rest of the group. The structure soon breaks down into a freer exploration, there is a sudden and urgent change of pace as the original motif is brought sharply to the fore. The whole thing is concluded rather neatly with a single exhalation from the sax.

‘Bk’, a quiet and sombre track has more of a Nordic feel about it, plenty of percussive rattles and brushes are pleasingly evident but with a hint of Jaco Pastorious style harmonics on the bass. The sax is joined by bass clarinet, deepening the already sombre mood. It’s followed by ‘Dorothy’, which flows almost seamlessly from the previous track. Both saxes build an intensity as the whole atmosphere is transformed with the introduction of the bass which sounds like it’s emanating from the subwoofer of a passing car. I really savoured the way these layers in the music are meshed together.

The record is impressively presented with an enigmatic sleeve illustration which at first glance appears like something from a 60s sci-fi paperback. It is in fact by nineteenth-century French artist and émigré to the US Étienne Léopold Trouvelot and looks quite embryonic but is aptly revealed to be an impression of the planet Mars.

The more I listen to this record the more I like it, especially the way it fuses a 60s jazz feel with Nordic overtones and very contemporary urban undertones. The more abstract inclinations of the players have been finely balanced with enough structure to keep me going back for more.

James Read