‘The Whistle Blower’ – Gilad Atzmon & The Orient House Ensemble

Gilad

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
with
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

gilad.co.uk

Fanfare Jazz – FJ1501 (2015)

‘Soho Live’ – Shez Raja Collective

ShezRaja

IT’S HARD TO IMAGINE JAZZ/FUNK on the current scene with quite such the invigorating edge and retro passion of the Shez Raja Collective. Captured live, and drawing material from studio albums Magica (2007) and Mystic Radikal (2010), ultra-dynamic electric bassist Shez Raja and his augmented personnel serve up a decidedly high-powered performance in this new release, Soho Live.

Raja’s no-holds-barred grooving is redolent of the seminal and psychedelic jazz/rock fusion of The Mahavishnu Orchestra, the hypnotic energy of the Zawinul Syndicate and legendary bass genius of Stanley Clarke and Marcus Miller – but there is bite and electricity here which demonstrates the genre’s ongoing relevance and explains Raja’s own fervent following, especially when guests Gilad Atzmon, Soweto Kinch, Shabaka Hutchings, Jay Phelps and vocalist Monika Lidke leap on board for what was evidently an unforgettably vibrant gig.

The core line-up steams through this 55-minute set with quite breathtaking verve – Aaron Liddard on alto and tenor saxes, electric violinist Pascal Roggen, Alex Stanford on keys and Chris Nickolls on drums. Adding Shabaka Hutchings into the mix, as clarinettist on opening number Adrenalize, simply revs up the excitement as his improvisations spiral unfalteringly. Electronics are a significant part of the band’s make-up and, with Stanford able to maintain the bass ‘raga’, Raja is free to solo extensively and colourfully.

Karmic Flow‘s deep bass riff against the mesmeric soundmix of tanpura, violin, saxes, drums and wordless vocals sets the tone for Soweto Kinch’s freestyling rap, much to the delight of the Pizza Express audience. And if ever there was a saxophonist whose instrument appeared to be simply an extension of their creative being, it must surely be Gilad Atzmon. In upbeat mid-groove FNUK – which finds Shez Raja soloing so fluidly, high on the fretboard, to infectious wah-wah keys and unified horn section – Atzmon grabs the the opportunity to wind up his tenor soloing from initial placidity to identifiable and outrageously rapid in-and-out-of-key brilliance – a joy to hear.

Taking on a Mahavishnu feel, thanks to the band’s unison melodies led by Pascal Roggen’s electric violin, Quiverwish bubbles to the slap’n’pop of Shez’s bass, Atzmon again in the midst; and Eastern Revolution melds violin and sitar sounds to great effect over whizzing electronics and Chris Nickolls’ high-impetus drums. Chirpy Chakras On The Wall features the lissome, scat-like vocals of Monika Lidke coupled with purposeful violin; South African in flavour, it includes, from Raja, a notable reverse-bass simulation (Paul Simon’s You Can Call Me Al, anybody?!).

Announced as “our funkiest track”, Junk Culture summons for me the memory of Jeff Beck/Jan Hammer classic You Never Know (There and Back, 1980) – certainly an infectious dazzler from this band’s nucleus involving a frothy keyboard frenzy from Alex Stanford. Finally, Freedom offers more of that African sunshine, courtesy of gyrating brass and clav over Raja’s swirling bass, Jay Phelps’ trumpet and Soweto Kinch’s alto determined to keep this party bouncing!

Released on 7 April 2014, on 33 Jazz, this is one spectacular jazz/funk celebration!

Check out the videos at Shez Raja’s YouTube channel.


Shez Raja
electric bass
Soweto Kinch alto saxophone, rapping
Gilad Atzmon tenor saxophone
Shabaka Hutchings clarinet
Jay Phelps trumpet
Monika Lidke vocals
Aaron Liddar alto and tenor saxophones
Pascal Roggen electric violin
Alex Stanford keyboards
Chris Nickolls drums

2014 gigs announced:
16 & 17 April: Album launch at Pizza Express Jazz Club, London (album launch)
6 June: The Forge, Camden
3 August: Erie Jazz Festival, USA
August: Australia and New Zealand tour

33 Jazz – 238 (2014)