Gilad Atzmon And The Orient House Ensemble: The Whistle Blower (2015)
By JOHN EPHLAND,
There's a soulful crying to much of this music that makes it so convincing, so enjoyable. It's blues music from someplace other than the Deep South. Starting with the first track, "Gaza Mon Amour," veteran multi-instrumentalist Gilad Atzmon somehow manages to invoke the spirit of John Coltrane (think "A Love Supreme"), along with a kind of tantalizing ethnic, Israeli vibe that conjoins East with West. The Whistle Blower is an intoxicating blend of romanticism with an edge that somehow bespeaks the current unrest we all live in. It swings like crazy and seems to owe some of its inspiration from that classic Coltrane quartet from the 1960s, but without being a retread of old ideas.
Across eight tunes, there's a sweet melodicism that keeps me listening, with unexpected surprises, reminding me that musicians from other parts of the world still think of and are inspired by music created by American musicians from days gone by. "Forever" unhooks us from the frenetic swing of the title track, letting us know this band, which also includes ample servings from keyboardist Frank Harrison, bassist/vocalist Yaron Stavi, drummer/vocalist Chris Higginbottom, with guest spots from vocalists Tali Atzmos and Antonio Feola, is working as a unit. The romantic "Forever" sentiment is furthered by the aptly titled "The Romantic Church," Atzmon's soprano saxophone soaring across the synth sheens provided by Harrison. The serenity is complicated by the album's centerpiece, "Let Us Pray," another song that evokes the spirit of Coltrane, but again from yet another place. Stavi's modal basis keeps it focused, while Harrison's chords anchor the song's contours, Atzmon's horn yet another insistent, paced, soulful cry. There's an inherent, delicious swing to this song akin to Coltrane's "Crescent," but the band manages, once again, to make it their own music, not a mimic, Higginbottom's drumming fluid, swinging, somehow in your face without being obtrusive. The repose points to the fact that this band has a history, they like playing with each other, feel comfortable, Harrison's haunting solo work on piano gentle, probing, Stavi's bass playing digging in. Praying, maybe, never felt so good.
All the players here have a rich musical resume, which goes beyond jazz to include an assortment that should keep listeners guessing. "The Song" shifts gears completely, its sweet waltz-like flavor and Atzmon's flowing accordion a kind of segue into more hard-charging material, "To Be Free" the start to the last section of an album that defies description as a reviewer, other than to say it keeps you on your listening toes, this song's combination of roots music with splashes of Keith Jarrett, Ornette Coleman and a general sense of unsettledness the overriding theme. Again, with Atzmon's soprano, we are reminded more of Coltrane, in the end, Harrison's piano channeling McCoy Tyner in support. Seesawing continues with what seems like a love song "For Moana," in case anyone was wondering about Atzmon's sentimental, meditative proclivities. It's Atzmon's paean to Italian adult-movie actress and politician Moana Pozzi, his "vintage romantic heroine."
As for the Orient House Ensemble, it's their eighth album after being together on and off for fifteen years (Higginbottom's a newbie). Atzmon describes the compositions as "about love, nostalgia, devotion and simplicity" and himself as "a reactionary existentialist," "the enemy of progress" and "the Imam of retro." The title song becomes a fitting retro activist closer with band wordless vocals, reminding us that while the music may sound serious overall, it's nothing if not fanciful, jolly.
Track Listing: Gaza Mon Amour; Forever; The Romantic Church; Let Us Pray; The Song; To Be Free; For Moana; The Whistle Blower.
Personnel: Gilad Atzmon: alto saxophone, soprano saxophone, 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: vocals.
Record Label: Fanfare Jazz
Style: Modern Jazz