A CASCADE of unalloyed Middle Eastern exuberance announces this latest release from Gilad Atzmon and his Orient House Ensemble. One of the hardest-working musicians on the London and UK jazz scene, multi-instrumentalist and composer Atzmon is one of those privileged beings whose instrument (here, chiefly sax) appears simply to be an extension of their own being, such is the fervid eloquence and quick-witted delivery of his performances.
Recorded again with OHE associates Frank Harrison (piano/keyboards), Yaron Stavi (basses) and Chris Higginbottom (drums), here is an album of Gilad’s original compositions which, characteristically, dances with ease between uproarious, Israeli-infused passion and utter, luxuriant romanticism. Easily the ‘Jeff Beck of the sax/clarinet’, there seems to be no capability of his reed instruments that he doesn’t understand or implement (as those who have seen his live creativity with mouthpiece and crook alone will testify!); and the rapidity of his trademark unbroken, chromatic runs up and down the keys – sometimes, with the dry timbre of a Medieval shawm – is as thrilling as ever.
So, that opening number, Gaza Mon Amour – with evocative percussion, rhythmic shouts and wails, it relentlessly surges to Atzmon’s hypnotic, swirling clarinet and sax extemporisations until he attains feverish screams; and following, the brooding mystery of Forever finds the leader in contrasting legato vein, coloured by Frank Harrison’s inquiring piano against the softness of cymbals and bass. The Romantic Church, harking back to the sentimentality of 2009’s In Loving Memory of America, is positively ambrosial – Atzmon at his most lyrical with wide vibrato, backed by Harrison’s lush strings and articulate, perspicuous piano.
Magnum opus Let Us Pray (at over eleven minutes) has an air of soundtrack, the drama escalating as Atzmon caterwauls almost in Doppler effect to the encouragement of Chris Higginbottom’s blazing drums and Yaron Stavi’s reliable bass propulsion, plus sweeping, piano improv and monolithic chords (stirring vivid memories of the electrifying atmospheres of OHE gigs). The homespun though subtly disquieting charm of The Song, expressed through the leader’s accordion, is sufficiently melodic as to proffer lyrics; and the edgy longing of To Be Free reverberates indeed to freer ensemble playing, Atzmon again reaching incredible heights.
For Moana – perhaps a love song – is spacially elegant, thanks to the delicate balance of piano, bass and drums – the perfect vehicle for Atmon’s sustained soprano meanderings. And ever the capricious, jesting showman, Gilad the guitarist and accordionist leads the closing title track – a cheeky, flouncy rumba – to wolf-whistle-prompting wordless vocal allurement from Tali Atzmon, accompanied by laddish, unison backing vocals.
Launching at London’s Pizza Express Jazz Club on 12 March, the album is released on and available from Atzmon’s new publishing outlet Fanfare Publications (and presumably all good jazz retailers) on 23 February. Extensive tour dates listed below – a show not to be missed, proven by this live video from The Hideaway – Gaza Mon Amour.
And ‘The Whistle Blower’? – Gilad explains: “I am an avid admirer of simplicity and transparency. The moment of clarity that leaves the mind in the dark, yet content. I guess this is why I blow the whistle instead of playing the fiddle.”
Gilad Atzmon alto sax, soprano sax, clarinet, accordion, guitar, vocals
Frank Harrison piano, keyboards, vocals
Yaron Stavi double bass, electric bass, vocals
Chris Higginbottom drums, vocals
Tali Atzmon vocals
Antonio Feola voice
2015 tour dates
23 February: Everyman Studio, Cheltenham
26 February: The Albany Club, Coventry
1 March: Hen & Chicken, Bristol
5 March: RNCM, Manchester [cancelled by RNCM]
6 March: Birmingham Jazz, Birmingham
11 March: Pizza Express Jazz Club, London
12 March: Pizza Express Jazz Club, London (album launch)
13 March: Pizza Express Jazz Club, London
14 March: Pizza Express Jazz Club, London
31 March: Brook Theatre, Chatham
1 April: Y Theatre, Leicester
4 April: 606 Club, London
5 April: Colchester Arts Centre, Colchester
7 April: A-Trane, Berlin
9 April: Saarwellingen, Germany
11 April: Drill Hall, Lincoln
16 April: Watermill Jazz Club, Dorking
17 April: Wakefield Jazz Club, Wakefield
25 April: (TBC) Freiburg
30 April: Spin Jazz Club, Oxford
Fanfare Jazz – FJ1501 (2015)