Örjan Hultén Orion @ NAC Wolverhampton

Örjan Hultén Orion
Newhampton Arts Centre
22nd September 2019

Words/Photos: Garry Corbett

Swedish band Orion, under the leadership of founder Örjan Hultén have been together for ten years and have produced four studio albums of original material. Their concert at NAC in Wolverhampton drew on three of those albums with the majority of the music coming from their latest album Minusgrader.

The band opened with the title track from that album, essentially a short suite of shifting moods inspired by the poem of the same title by the great Swedish poet Tomas Transtromer. It’s a dark poem and this darkness is translated into the composition. The mood was set by the unaccompanied piano of Torbjorn Gutz with Hultén joining him on soprano saxophone and the crisp cymbal work of drummer Peter Danemo which put me in mind of the sound world created by Jon Christensen on numerous ECM albums. As the number ran its course Hultén switched to tenor saxophone, different voices reflecting the shifting images evoked by the inspirational poem. Filip Augustson’s arco bass echoing the bleakness.

By comparison, October In May which followed was almost jaunty. The composition by Gutz produced a fine piano solo from the composer who then underpinned a lovely toned bass solo from Augustson and some excellent drum work from Peter Danemo who penned the next number Unless It’s You, a beautiful medium tempo composition which featured some warm sounding tenor work from Hultén. Do It Anyway followed, propelled along by composer Filip Augustson’s muscular bass work.

Blues I Manegen closed the first set opening up the sound to highlight what a tremendous piano trio lies at the heart of the band. Hultén having stated the theme laid out for the middle section while the trio went into tightly locked overdrive with solos all round. The tenor’s re-entry wouldn’t have been out of place on a classic Blue Note album.

The second set opened with Karin Maria, dedicated to Hultén’s wife and taken from the band’s 2016 album Fältrapport featuring some tight ensemble work and a lyrical piano solo from Gutz.

A change of mood gave us Etyd II also from Fältrapport. The tune skips along with the help of Danemo’s deft high hat coupled with Augustson’s characteristically nimble bass over which the theme stated by Hultén’s tenor brought an Arabic sound to the proceedings. Into the second set and Orion were on fire, carrying the audience with them judging by the loud applause which followed this number. One of the highlights of the evening. As a title, Man With Orange which followed suggests maybe an abstract painting. In fact, as Hultén explained it was inspired by the sight of a commuter with a coffee in one hand carrying an orange with the other. The oldest number of the evening it comes from the band’s first album Radio In My Head, 2010. Clearly, the commuter was a man in a hurry as the number swings like the proverbial clappers with some quick-fire soprano from Hultén and the only extended outing of the evening from drummer Danemo with a nicely constructed solo which had the saxophonist smiling with clear appreciation.

Adore You from Minusgrader followed and produced the best solo of the evening from Gutz whose unobtrusive humming along with his piano didn’t interfere with the flow but clearly indicated how much he was engaged. also another tremendous bass solo from Augustson. The second set concluded with Heading East which began with some strong bass playing before some Getzian tenor from Hultén. The number illustrated conclusively what superb ensemble playing Orion are capable of.

A great band and a great evening of original music. Given that these guys had left their native Sweden early on Sunday morning, flown to Heathrow, driven from Heathrow to Wolverhampton to set up for the gig then eaten a “huge meal” at a nearby Polish restaurant it’s hardly surprising that there were odd moments during the first set when they appeared to be searching for something just out of grasp. By the end of the first set they were on their way. Soon into the second set they were alight and so continued for the remainder of the evening.
An actual band who sound as though ten years together is just the beginning.

Catch them if you can this week as their tour continues to Hereford on Thursday evening and Birmingham 1000 Trades on Friday. You will not be disappointed.