Gilad Atzmon & The Orient House Ensemble / Ruby Rose, The Swan Hotel, Abergavenny 10/02/2013.
Manic energy, earthy humour and political comment all topped off by superb musicianship, there's never a dull moment at an Atzmon gig.
Gilad Atzmon & The Orient House Ensemble / Ruby Rose, Black Mountain Jazz, The Swan Hotel, Abergavenny, 10/02/2013.
The large crowd was testament to the enduring appeal of Gilad Atzmon who has been a frequent and popular visitor to the town appearing at a variety of venues as the guest of the peripatetic BMJ club. This time round Atzmon was stopping off as part of a jaw droppingly comprehensive British tour in support of the new OHE album “Songs of the Metropolis”, his most mature work to date and an album that rates among his best.
GILAD ATZMON & THE ORIENT HOUSE ENSEMBLE
“Songs of the Metropolis”, the new album from Atzmon’s “working band”, the long running Orient House Ensemble, is arguably less obviously political and confrontational than some of Atzmon’s previous recordings. Instead it’s a paean of praise to the nomadic lifestyle of the travelling musician and of the sense of place to be found in both the world’s great cities and in the quieter corners of the globe (witness “Scarborough” and “Somewhere In Italy”, tunes that both featured in today’s set).
Not that Atzmon has mellowed out on us, In performance he’s still a larger than life character, sometimes challenging, sometimes surreal and more often laugh out loud funny as he jumps from subject to subject like a bee in a particularly colourful flower bed. His adrenaline fuelled between tunes verbiage is matched by his brilliant playing on a variety of instruments, today alto and soprano saxes, clarinet and accordion. Atzmon is ably supported by his trusted lieutenants Frank Harrison (keyboards), Yaron Stavi (double bass) and relative newcomer Eddie Hick (drums).
Every tune on the new album is named after a location and Atzmon and his colleagues began with album opener “Paris” with Atzmon moving from accordion to clarinet as the ensemble evoked a feel of an idealised Paris – nostalgia, both real and imagined is a recurring theme throughout the new album, something that Atzmon first explored on the 2001 album “Nostalgico”.
Harrison plays acoustic piano beautifully on “Songs..”, here his set up consisted of a Technics electric piano and an M Audio synth but he still sounded great. Harrison is the kind of musician who has the ability to adapt his playing to the sound of the electric instrument and his opening solo was lovely, followed by the more assertive sound of Atzmon on clarinet, his quote laden solo full of allusions to jazz’s “Golden Age”.
If Paris represented a wistful opening then “Tel Aviv” was a reminder of the archetypal angry Atzmon as the rifle like crack of Hick’s snare detonated the bustling urgency of this piece depicting the ferment of Atzmon’s home city. Loving where you come from but sometimes hating it as well is something I can relate to and I thrilled to the angry buzz of Atzmon’s soprano above Harrison’s steady piano comping and the drive of Hick’s drums. However it wasn’t all hammer and tongs as Atzmon explored in more reflective mood above Harrison’s synth drone with the keyboard man later taking over on electric piano.
Each tune on “Songs…” has a kind of dedication, Moscow’s is “in honour of greatness”. Atzmon’s piece in homage of the Russian capital exhibited a certain grandeur and gravitas courtesy first of Harrison’s keyboard intro and the mallet generated thunder of Hick’s drums. Solos from Atzmon’s alto and Stavi’s double bass continued the mood with Atzmon temporarily switching back to accordion mid tune.
Rambling off the beaten track is an essential part of any Atzmon show and prior to playing “Scarborough” he got young drummer Eddie Hick to demonstrate his ability for “beat boxing”which drew an impressive round of applause.
Atzmon explained his choice of “Scarborough” as the album’s English song by lamenting the homogeneity and lack of character of London. No doubt Scarborough was chosen partly in honour of its annual jazz festival but perhaps also because it gave Atzmon the opportunity to take the folk melody of “Scarborough Fair” and mutate it into a modal, John Coltrane like tour de force in much the same way as Coltrane liberated “My Favourite Things”. Atzmon’s increasingly impassioned work on soprano was complemented by Hick’s explosive drumming with Harrison providing a quieter interlude between two bouts of exquisite saxophone bluster.
The first set ended with “Berlin”, a kitsch beer hall sing along featuring Stavi’s bowed bass and Atzmon on alto with the leader introducing the band as his henchmen warbled the chorus. A lighthearted way to end an excellent first set that had visited many moods and many locations.
The turnaround was pretty quick, Gilad and the gang were later moving on to a second performance of the day across the Severn Bridge at Bath and with the weather in a particularly foul mood they didn’t feel overly inclined to hang about. Further evidence here of Gilad deserving that “hardest working man in jazz” tag.
The second set kicked off with “Buenos Aires”, which the record dedicates to “pathos”. The piece began in trio mode with Atzmon on alto and with Stavi again making use of the bow, these two first joined by Harrison and later by Hick who added military sounding snare to the tango induced sadness generated by his colleagues. Harrison’s electric piano solo was another unexpected delight.
The air of nostalgia and regret invoked by “Buenos Aires” was transported to “Vienna” where Atzmon chose to depict “the charm of sweetness” by means of a waltz; sometimes his depictions can be quite literal and owe something to readily recognised and established conventions. It’s an appropriately appealing piece highlighted here by solos from Atzmon on alto and Harrison at his Technics keyboard.
Next came “The Burning Bush” from the OHE’s excellent 2007 album “Refuge” which included the most obviously Middle Eastern influences on Atzmon’s playing since “Tel Aviv” in the first set. The piece also included Atzmon’s Middle Eastern style vocalising as he conducted a bizarre kind of call and response between himself on alto sax and vocal. Elsewhere there was an extended solo drum passage in which Hick impressed with his power and precision, dissonant accordion from Atzmon, and a bridging passage of synth and piano as Atzmon switched back to alto sax, throwing in a quote from the jazz standard “All Of Me” before the band launched themselves into “the big finish”.
“Autumn In New York” began as a lush ballad movingly played by Atzmon on alto sax to the accompaniment of Hick’s brushed grooves before a duo passage of alto sax/electric piano served to emphasise the musical closeness that has developed between Atzmon and Harrison, the only consistent elements in the OHE’s decade plus existence. A drum salvo from Hick heralded the second part of the tune, a far more lively affair incorporating Latin rhythms and further madcap group vocalising. In truth the piece seemed to be an amalgam of the tunes “Autumn In Baghdad” and “Spring In New York” plus “My Refuge” all from the “Refuge” album. I guess it was all in keeping with the general geographical theme of the show.
Mike Skilton coaxed the band back to the stage for an encore and Gilad and the guys let us down gently with the wistfully nostalgic “Somewhere in Italy” from the new record with solos from Harrison on electric piano and the leader on soprano sax. Even here Atzmon couldn’t resist injecting a touch of humour into the proceedings as he tossed in a quote from the theme to “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly”.
With his blend of manic energy, earthy humour and political comment all topped off by superb musicianship Gilad Atzmon remains a force of nature. He may challenge his audiences but he’s also a superb entertainer who knows how to pace a show, there’s never a dull moment at an Atzmon gig. More importantly his albums stand up to repeated listening and even those who either don’t understand or disagree with his politics (although born Jewish he is an avowed anti Zionist and effectively exiled from Israel) can’t fail to be impressed by the man’s musicianship. This thought provoking artist has become one of the leading figures on the UK jazz scene, always a popular concert draw (particularly so in Abergavenny where he played one of his first gigs after first coming to the UK in the 1990’s) and with an increasingly impressive recorded catalogue. No doubt there will be plenty more to come.
This was a terrific start to BMJ’s 2013 concert programme. For details of future events please visit http://www.bmjazztumblr.com
Remaining dates on Gilad Atzmon & The Orient House Ensemble’s tour are;
15 The Verdict, Brighton / www.verdictjazz.co.uk / 01273 674847
17 Book Launch, American Colony Hotel, East Jerusalem, Palestine, details to follow
20 Old Brown Jug, Newcastle Under Lyme / www.oldbrownjug.com / 01782 711393
21–23 Album Launch Pizza Express Jazz Club (5 concerts) , Soho, London / www.pizzaexpresslive.com / 020 7437 9595
24 Jagz, Ascot / www.jagz.co.uk / 01344 878100
25 Press Day in Berlin Germany
26 With Terry Collie's trio Retro Bistrot Restaurant. Teddington, London, TW11
27 Y Theatre, Leicester / www.leicesterjazzhouse.co.uk / 0116 255 7066
28 With The Power Cats South Holland Arts Centre, Spalding / www.southhollandcentre.co.uk *
1. With Jon Thorne's Trio, Isle of White / www.jonthorne.co.uk *
2 Posk Jazz Cafe, London / www.jazzcafeposk.co.uk / 0208 7411940
5 The Stables, Milton Keynes / www.stables.org / 01908 280800
6 Press day in Paris
7 Bonington Theatre, Arnold, Nottingham / www.jazzsteps.co.uk / 0115 8770284
8 Star & Shadow Cinema, Newcastle on Tyne www.starandshadow.org.uk
10–12 Town Hall, Shetland Island (+master classes)
13 Jazz Bar, Edinburgh / www.thejazzbar.co.uk / 0131 220 4298
14 Band on the Wall, Manchester / www.bandonthewall.org / 0161 830 3884
15 The Brewery Arts Centre, Kendal, Cumbria / www.breweryarts.co.uk / 01539 725 133
17 Herts Jazz, Welwyn Garden City / www.hertsjazz.co.uk / 01707 357117
29 Comodo Jazz Bar, Osaka, Japan*
30 The 606 Club, London / www.606club.co.uk / 020 7352 5953
1-14 - Argentina and south America music and literature tour, details to follow
3 With Luis D'Agostino Trio, Notorious, Buenos Aires
6 with Juampy Juarez Trio Jazz & Pop, Buenos Aires
9 With Luis D'Agostino Trio,; Jazzología, Buenos Aires (TBC)
11With Luis D'Agostino Trio Thelonious, Buenos Aires
16-29 European Album Launch tour Germany, Austria, France, Luxemburg, Switzerland, details to follow
3-12 Italy , Details to follow
Further information at http://www.gilad.co.uk