Guitarist, composer and Sting sideman Carl Orr was kind enough to write a five-star review of my Sting book this week. It was great to see the book get a ‘thumbs up’ from Carl, who I respect. greatly as a musician and have seen perform a couple of times when performing Sting’s The Last Ship during its initial tour, including the inaugural performance at Northern Stage on March 12 2018. Carl played some magnificent guitar that evening, so I was interested to find out more about him.
When looking at his backstory, it is obvious Carl has a fantastic pedigree. Born in Newcastle, growing up Australia, then moving to London in the early ‘90s, by which time his CV was already very impressive, having studied at Berklee College of Music and worked with many name jazz musicians – including Billy Cobham.
Since moving to London, he has released six solo albums, which are incredibly eclectic stylistically. Although broadly falling into the ‘jazz’ category, his music can be placed within the genre’s tradition by engaging with influences ranging from that of The Brecker Bros (‘Swamp Thing’), later Miles Davies (‘Still Life’), to more traditional jazz (Deep Down), to his most recent album and the main subject of this post – Somewhere Else (2019)
After spending time listening to it this week, I would say his Something Else album takes the listener on a journey of escapism, both in terms of the imaginary landscapes of tracks such as ‘Katie‘ (written for his daughter) and ‘Somewhere Else‘ (which reminds me of Tim Garland’s recent work, depicting the North East of England – listen to ‘Lady of the North‘), to the more ‘place centred’ textures of tracks such as ‘Analyse‘ (a Radiohead cover), ‘Fayah‘, and ‘Ride the Camel‘, which have more specific semiological relationships with India, Africa and ‘the Middle East’ respectively, due to the purposeful use of musical textures related to those regions (‘Ride the Camel’ features my old guitar teacher Stuart Hall).
Compositions aside, it is also noticeably that Orr is a ‘special guitarist’, who if I was to describe his work in one word— it would be TASTE. This is something that no amount of musical training can manifest. As with all of his work, Carl performs equally as proficiently on acoustic as he does on electric and although he can ‘shred’ (listen to the Cobham track above), he is also capable of ‘playing the spaces’ by manifesting a ‘less is more’ idiolect. One of the first things one notices when listening to his music, is that he appears to place a lot of emphasis on melody—both in terms of his compositions and his guitar playing and by doing this, he engages with the listener on many levels—be it from simply ‘singing the tune’, to marvelling at the technical proficiency and competency of his artistry, to being ‘lost’ in textures, melodies, rhythms and timbres of tracks such as the title track – ‘Somewhere Else’. Indeed I challenge anyone reading this post to listen to this track and while doing so – just consider the places it takes you – open fields, across oceans, through wooded landscapes, looking at ones home from a distance – they are all possible. Once the Covid19 pandemic is out of the way and public gatherings are possible again, I would love to see this guy perform his own material live, which I am sure will bring some of these imaginary landscapes even closer – fantastic!