You might be fooled, by the playful waltz that opens this set's portrayal of Vienna, or by the solemnly marching chords introducing Moscow, into thinking that volatile reeds virtuoso Gilad Atzmon has grown tired of fighting battles and finally opted for the expected. But it's Atzmon, and he doesn't do expected – tensions, surprises, shocks and ambiguities are a lot more interesting. Concentrating on clarinet and soprano sax, and inviting equal participation from his three Orient House Ensemble partners, Atzmon draws the Paris romance toward more dangerous emotions in a tumult of rising glissandos against Eddie Hick's fierce drumming, and takes the initially vivacious dance of Tel Aviv into mysterious spaces more reminiscent of Miles Davis and Wayne Shorter's In a Silent Way. Buenos Aires expresses a pulsating heat in which motifs wander as if in a haze, Scarborough Fair arrives late in the song devoted to the town, before the track unexpectedly turns into a Coltrane-quartet modal storm for the excellent Frank Harrison's McCoy Tyner-inspired piano. The playing is generally stronger than the writing – but since it's such high-class playing, that hardly matters.
Gilad Atzmon And The Orient House Ensemble: Songs Of The Metropolis (2013)
The metropolis is central to the life of a jazz musician. It's where the work is, where the conservatories are, where the music emerged and developed. Gilad Atzmon, the saxophonist and composer who's been described as the hardest working man in UK jazz, writes that Songs Of The Metropolis is "A pursuit of the sound of the city." It's a pursuit that takes him to seven of the world's most famous cities, to a small English seaside town and to "Somewhere In Italy." It proves that there is no single sound of the city, but the plethora of sounds Atzmon discovers are vibrant and beautiful.
The Orient House Ensemble formed in 2000: this lineup has been in existence since 2009, when drummer Eddie Hick replaced Asaf Sirkis. Atzmon has previously looked to the cities of the world for inspiration—Baghdad, London and New York have all found their way into his song titles—but never before have they been so central to one of his albums. Each tune reflects a particular quality of the place, as envisaged by the composer and described briefly in his sleeve notes.
"Paris" is romantic, Frank Harrison's crystalline piano motif and Atzmon's accordion creating images of lovers at pavement cafés. "Tel Aviv" is full of energy and tension. "Manhattan"—notably, not New York as a whole—is funky, constantly on the move, Yaron Stavi's bass groove and Hick's percussion underpinning Atmon's flowing soprano sax. "Scarborough" namechecks the seaside town known for its jazz festival and for the English folk song "Scarborough Fair" which forms the tune's central musical theme and the starting point for Atzmon's emotive soprano sax solo.
Israeli-British saxophonist/tunesmith/polymath Gilad Atzmon and his combo the Orient House Ensemble have an intriguing new album out, Songs of the Metropolis, a tribute to great cities around the world. Most of it is streaming at Atzmon’s album page. The band here is the same as on Atzmon’s excellent previous album: the bandleader on alto and soprano saxophones and accordion, along with Frank Harrison on piano, Yaron Stavi on bass and Eddie Hick on drums. As one would expect from an intellect as formidable as Atzmon, it’s no “look ma, I’m playing a tango now” type of genre-hopping; rather, it’s a series of impressions.
With this collection of lithe, witty compositions, Atzmon pays tribute to some great world cities, including 'Berlin', 'New York', his birthplace 'Tel Aviv' and, er, 'Scarborough',
which provides the pre text for an epic, mood-shif(ing re-tread of 'Scarborough Fair', Although the Orient House Ensemble is on superb form, some of Atzmon's fans may
feel initial disappointment at the restrained surface of some tracks. Several albums and numerous gigs have accustomed us to fiery, edgy, often confrontational work, but he has indicated that this angry turbulence had in fact become a comfort zone, so he felt the need to move into new territory. 'Paris' provides a slightly schmaltzy opening, but Atzmon's sumptuous chalumeau clarinet tone is a delight. A nod to Sidney Bechet via Acker Bilk, perhaps, and the funky, rhythmically-sophisticated 'Tel Aviv' demonstrates that Anmon's soprano sound is also one of the most satisfying since Bechet.
Barry Witherden BBC Music Magazine April 2013
PERFORMANCE 4 STARS
RECORDING 4 STARS
“An interesting collection of locations inspires this album of musical evocations. Gilad Atzmon is in a reflective mood as he melodically recreates not only Paris and other cities, like Buenos Aires, Moscow, Tel Aviv and Berlin, but also such towns as Scarborough and, possibly, a more rural 'Somewhere In Italy'; certainly the work seems more pastoral than the others and even has Eric Dolphy-like bird song from the sax.
For this recording, Alzmon plays alto and soprano saxophones and, sometimes, clarinet and accordion. Frank Harrison offers extremely sympathetic support on piano and a variety of keyboards, Yaron Stavi the robust double bass and Eddie Hick percussively drums his way around each urban landscape. Rather than trying to instrumentally re-create actual street sounds, as Charles Mingus did in his famous New York Sketchbook, Atzmon opts for an altogether more impressionistic approach. There is a Christopher Isherwood, Cabaret-like feel to 'Berlin' complete with vocal chorus by Atzmon, Stavi and Hicks, while 'Buenos Aires' is a powerful, slow and atmospheric piece containing some of the album's finest playing.”
John Crosby R2 magazine 4 STARS
ORIENT HOUSE ENSEMBLE.
Together with his superbly intuitive band, the well-travelled, hard-gigging Atzmon – an Israeli-born multireedsman who seamlessly marries bop with Middle Eastern music – has etched nine vividly evocative portraits of cities and towns, ranging from Manhattan and Buenos Aires to… Scarborough. Whether he’s blowing up a storm of notes or gently caressing a ballad, there’s a luminous vitality at the heart of Atzmon’s playing that’s irresistible to the ear.
GILAD ATZMON & THE ORIENT HOUSE ENSEMBLE
Songs of the Metropolis
The fiery Israeli who hit London with a jazz-and-politics double whammy in 2000 has mellowed into a souvenir-collecting world traveller. Paris, Vienna, Berlin, Moscow and Manhattan are among his new titles here, each appropriately seasoned with local flavourings which add accordion, soprano sax and clarinet to the leader’s meaty alto saxophone. Buenos Aires, Tel Aviv, Scarborough Fair and even Somewhere in Italy also make the cut, but surprisingly not Cricklewood Broadway. Faithful Frank Harrison adds lyrical flourishes from the piano and the whole dish is heated by Yaron Stavi’s mellow bass and the sizzling drums of rookie Orienteer Eddie Hick. Their album-launch UK tour calls at the Pizza Express Jazz Club in Dean Street tonight and tomorrow.
I am on the front cover of Jazz Journal this month. A very interesting interview. We discussed art, politics, the state of Jazz and the destructive role of art funding. We spoke about the band, the political pressure and about life in general. A very interesting piece
Jazz Journal, February 2013. www.jazzjournal.co.uk
‘When politicians get involved and decide who will get the money, who should be part of the discourse, we make everything conscious. We are basically killing the existential, libidinal spontaneity of this art form’
Gilad Atzmon: Musical capital
by Mark Gilbert
The Israeli-born, UK-resident reedman, composer and writer talks to MARK GILBERT in advance of five solid months on the road to coincide with the release of Songs Of The Metropolis
Gilad Atzmon’s spring UK tour, partially listed in JJ last month, is impressively larger (now around 40 dates) than any tour by his peers in recent memory. How does he get so many gigs, never mind the subsequent appearances in Japan, Argentina, Europe and the USA that take him away from home until mid-June? The Israeli-born, UK-resident reedman who says “I am upset by Israel, by Jewish politics” is known for a certain political notoriety – an often valuable currency in the modern jazz world – and one of my key questions for him is to what extent he has exploited that notoriety to further his musical career.
“My views are read by millions every day [at www.gilad.co.uk], which means it is possible that my audience is bigger than many jazz artists. But if anything my views damage my career. I’ve seen one of the biggest Jewish lobbies in the world putting pressure on the Arts Council to cancel my appearance in festivals that are funded by the Arts Council. I must say about the Arts Council, they really stood for me. They said that they were very proud to give stage to Gilad Atzmon.”