For the first 60 seconds of “El Cants Dels Ocells,” a track on the new album by the St. Petersburg duo Orilla, vocalist Ona Kirei is backed by the ethereal sound of a ghostly choir and the deep rumble of a bass synthesizer. It’s a traditional song from the Catalan region of northeastern Spain, which includes the capital city of Barcelona, Kirei’s hometown.
“Everybody sings that song in Catalonia,” she explains. “Originally, it was a Christmas song, but it’s so meaningful for that society that it has transcended Christmas and it’s almost an anthem.”
She is the only singer on the recording – the choir, the harmonies, the melodic mountainous wails way off in the distance, they’re all her. Kirei also plays several percussion instruments, while Alejandro Arenas, the other half of Orilla, plays acoustic bass, electric bass and synth.
This is the secret to Daring Flowers, the first album by Orilla (it means the shore). It straddles numerous thin bloodlines between jazz, pop, folk and yes, world music, but more than this it’s a synthesis of these two creative young people’s musical desires and aspirations. It’s melodiously experimental.
Meaning there isn’t a label, or a category, that fits snugly.
Listen to the title song, “Daring Flowers”:
Kirei and Arenas have been making music together since the fall of 2020. Sometimes she guests at gigs by La Lucha, the jazz trio for which he is the founding bassist, and occasionally they get the chance to perform together, as just bass and vocals.
“We actually have a lot of energy in our live concerts,” Kirei says. “It’s not what you would expect from a voice and a bass.”
The CD release concert for Daring Flowers is Thursday (July 28) at thestudio@620. (Click here for tickets and details.)
“El Cants Del Ocells,” which translates as “Song of the Birds,” began as a simple live performance, fairly straightforward, Arenas on his upright bass, Kirei singing and playing the Latin percussion instrument (sort of a simple wooden box) called a cajón.
“We had a very minimalistic arrangement that we performed live,” Arenas explained. “And we recorded it.”
But she felt it needed more, and so the overdubbing began. And Orilla ended up with a haunting, otherworldly track.
This music stretches and breaks boundaries.
“Nowadays, unless you’re really rooted in a specific genre, there’s a lot of cross-pollination,” Arenas says. “We came to the sound that we’ve developed through jazz, in the sense of having the freedom to do whatever we want.
“We can be free to express whatever we want to express, musically and lyrically, without being concerned about the style that we’re presenting.”
There are echoes of Joni Mitchell’s classic work with Jaco Pastorius here (the title track could have come from Hejira, for example)
And there are moments that conjure sweet, hazy late-night jazz, like “The Whale and the Baobob,” a Kirei original that features her on piano and singing in English. Arenas is on bass and recites a verse in Spanish, like a radio transmission from deep space. Their friend Pascal Comte does a French recitation.
Otherwise, the only two people on Daring Flowers are Kirei and Arenas.
Kirei cites the Spanish twosome Silvia Pérez Cruz and Javier Colina as an inspiration. “We really loved what they were doing, and how they were mixing jazz with Spanish music, with Catalan music. It was only voice and bass, and we were fascinated by that.”
The thing is, there are no limits. There are no rules. Orilla’s music is created democratically. “That’s what makes this duo work,” Kirei explains. “Instead of thinking of each other ‘you’re crazy’ – which we also think – we encourage each other’s ideas.”
Adds Arenas: “It’s kind of a challenge to find your audience. It’s going to be entertaining. It’s going to be from the heart, and very honest.
“But I think it’s going to be something new to a lot of people. And we want it to be that way.”