CD Reviews

Phil Ravita’s New Album Oriana Evokes Sights and Sounds of Daybreak in the City

Oriana, released March 25, 2023 by Phil Ravita Jazz, is Ravita’s second album as a leader, following the highly praised 2021 album Jagged Spaces. In addition to bassist and leader Ravita, this quartet consists of Greg Small, piano; Nucleo Vega, drums; Benny Russell, saxophone; and Mark Leppo, vibe, conga; with vocalist Deidre Jennings.

I recently talked with Phil by phone, to learn more about his background. During our 20-minute conversation, I asked him three questions:  How did music find you?,” “What led you to Jazz?,” and “Who were your greatest influences?” His answers yielded a wealth of similar experiences between us—two Baltimore natives who grew up listening to Jazz (The Harley Show, a Baltimore jazz radio show on WBAL from 1952 to 1984), rock (the Beatles), and a wide range of other musical genres in households where music was a central part of our daily lives. Unlike me, however, Ravita, who holds both a Master’s degree and a PhD, followed his passion for music to create a busy life of teaching at four Maryland colleges, while hosting a weekly radio program at one of them and performing throughout the Mid-Atlantic with both jazz and classical ensembles. Because I am primarily a self-taught “play it by ear” musician who reads music only when necessary, his insightful answer to my second question was music to my ears: “[I love] the freedom of [jazz]… the improvisational aspect of it. You can’t articulate on paper what music really sounds like, and the meaning of it.”                  

The title Oriana (Latin for sunrise or daybreak – feminine form of the Greek Orion) is perfect for this new album! Over its 10 tracks, Ravita and his quartet explore the moods, sights, and sounds of the hours before daybreak in the City. The tone ranges from brash to brooding, urbane to contemplative, all undergirded by an optimistic spirit. Even the song titles suggest variations on the theme.

The opening track, “Sepia” (one of eight original songs) has an in-your-face groove, anchored by an unrelenting 4/4 “march” drumbeat, with blazing horns and saxophone riffs, tempered by mellow, melodious piano and vibe. Like “Sepia,” “Boo’s Blues” (track 3) features bold and brash sax and piano, and  funky, slightly off-beat accents by the drums. “December 2021” is a dreamy tune in 3/4 time, reminiscent of Vince Guaraldi’s “Skating,” (from the album, Charlie Brown’s Christmas).

In contrast, the two cover songs performed by vocalist Deidre Jennings conjure up earlier, more blues-infused eras of Jazz. “Black Coffee” (a 1948 song with music by Sonny Burke and lyrics by Paul Francis Weber) has been performed by an eclectic group of artists since Sarah Vaughn’s version charted in 1949, including Ray Charles (1957); Bobby Darin (1960);  Rosemary Clooney, Ruth Brown, and Petula Clark (1960s); k.d. lang (1988), Carmen McCrae, and Sinéad O’Connor (1990s), and others, as recently as 2014. Ms. Jennings’ version is smooth, yet delightfully bluesy and raspy, backed by lush piano and vibes, with this pointed lament for women: “Stay at home and mind your oven.” Likewise, her rendition of “Caravan,” backed by Ravita Jazz’s jungle fever-like playing, harkens back to the exotic sounds of 1930s jazz. 

Closing out the album are two original songs that reinforce the ”daybreak” theme. “City Lights,” with its soulful alto sax paired with tinkling piano and vibraphone, evokes a feeling of magic, a night-time romantic stroll under city skyscapes, a hint of mystery, and wistful memories. “Heaven” has a classic Gospel/Blues Jazz sound that reminded me of both Ray Charles’s “Georgia on My Mind” and the old Saturday Night Live band’s sign-off theme. The message, for me, was plain and simple: it was a long, hard night, but I lived to see another day, and I’m thankful.

Enjoy Oriana any time of the day—morning, evening, or noon; or in any setting—under the light of the moon, at a party, or alone in your room; with your first cup of coffee, or your last sip of wine. You’ll be glad you did. The album is available at  The CD Release concert takes place June 24th at An Die Musik, 409 N. Charles Street.

–by Jackie Oldham

Jackie Oldham is a Baltimore native who writes essays, poetry, memoirs, and short stories on many topics in her blog, She has done readings at various Baltimore venues and on radio shows. Her essays have appeared as editorials and letters in the Baltimore Sun. She retired from a career as a copy editor, trainer, and team leader for the former Waverly Press and its successors. She is also a musician who loves all kinds of music, including jazz.

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