Rainlore's Review: Gilad Atzmon & The Orient House Ensemble - Songs Of The Metropolis
Songs Of The Metropolis
Released on 21st January, Gilad Atzmon & The Orient House Ensemble's Songs Of The Metropolis is their second release on the prestigious World Village label, and their first in nearly two and a half years.
By way of a preamble, as it were, I feel compelled to note the following. It is curious to note how two great jazz musicians, both very much belonging with the giants of the past, one in Britain, Gilad Atzmon, and one in the States, Mark Weinstein (reviewed app. a week ago), one primarily known for his alto and soprano sax and clarinet, the other a jazz flautist, both fierce, fiery improvisers, both from totally different musical backgrounds and with totally different styles and approaches, are releasing albums within a few short weeks of each other that have so much in common, in spite of taking entirely different directions. Fundamentally, and most strikingly, both albums mark a fairly radical departure from each of the artists' usual directions and styles, and have both venturing well outside of their 'comfort zones.' Both albums are about heart, and beauty, and seem to question the soullessness of our modern world. Both almost force the listener to stop everything and listen to a more serene, sublime sound, to listen to their heart, each in its own different way of course. This is, perhaps, where the similarities end...
As ever, this demonstrates, elegantly, how our commonalities outweigh our differences, and how those little differences make life interesting of course.
As already observed, Songs Of The Metropolis takes Atzmon well out of his comfort zone, well beyond his more usual Coltranesque style and his often Bird-like flights of fancy. Every great jazz musician constantly re-invents himself. But this time Atzmon's re-inventing of himself is far more radical than it has ever been. Nostalgia has always played a part in Atzmon's music (esp. see Nostalgico and In Loving Memory Of America) to some extent, but on Songs Of The Metropolis he has gone all the way, as it were. Romance, the heart, love and loss (which are intrinsically linked, alas), and beauty are what this album is all about, full on.
Atzmon's music has also always been to a greater or lesser extent deconstructionist, but again, on Songs Of The Metropolis this seems to go the whole hog, if you like. Atzmon's deconstruction is complex - at once literal in the sense of Heidegger's concepts of Abbau and Destruktion, of taking things apart, and of Derrida's further definition of it, as well as in the sense of John D. Caputo's further definition of 'finding a nutshell and then cracking it open,' as it were. Atzmon takes a tune, a fragment of a tune, and then takes it 'apart,' bit by constituent bit, to put it simply. This is most evident, or most obvious, on Tel Aviv, Scarborough, Somewhere In Italy, and Manhattan.
However, this deconstruction is not and never has been, Atzmon merely being clever, rather it is a means to an end. As indeed is everything about Atzmon, everything that he might employ.
Of course, there are, here and there, still signs of Atzmon's Coltranesque style and even the odd Bird-like flight of fancy 'more notes to the Pound than any other player' improvs, but they are subtle, even relatively subdued. And they are merely secondary tools in his quest.
Songs Of The Metropolis is a kind of travelogue through time as much as space, and a lot of imagination. The nine songs, eight of which are originals and show Atzmon's prowess as a composer reaching new heights and maturity, mostly cover cities (or parts of cities, as in the case of Manhattan) that Atzmon has performed in. The double exception is Scarborough, a sleepy seaside resort that is a town, and the only non-Atzmon composition, being based on the traditional English folk song Scarborough Fair. Somewhere In Italy also forms a special case in not referring to a specific location.
The opening Paris clearly establishes two things immediately. Even from the first bar it is obvious that this piano can only be Frank Harrison, with his unique style and attack. More importantly, it makes evident that Songs Of The Metropolis is an album about the sounds of these cities of (mostly) the past, a past that Atzmon partly remembers and partly imagines, and is nostalgic for. A past where cities, places, still had their own individual and distinctive sound, an individual identity. Paris is the Paris of Bechet (Atzmon's clarinet has not sounded so Bechet-like since Petit Fleur and is simply to die for in itself), of Piaf, of Ravel, and musette and a thousand other sounds.
The always razor sharp wit, and humour, of Atzmon seems most evident in something that is not on Songs Of The Metropolis. A city that has been omitted, indeed, perhaps the most obvious city, Atzmon's home. London. To me, London has sadly long lost all traces of individuality, of any sound of its own. Just as its once common individual shops tend to have given way to international, multi-national brands and chain stores for the most part, so it has lost its own sound to the (otherwise wonderful!) sounds of multiculturalism that somehow seems to have left no room for the indigenous ones. Knowing Atzmon, this is precisely the reason for his omitting London from Songs Of The Metropolis, instead giving its place to the beautiful North Yorkshire seaside town of Scarborough and the traditional folk song Scarborough Fair.
Wit and humour come completely to the foreground in the brief two minute closer, Berlin, a perfect blend of beer cellar and Weil. Yep, that's Atzmon alright!
With Songs Of The Metropolis, Atzmon asks the listener to take a look at and examine our increasingly soulless modern world, to take a look at what we have lost or are losing. The love that is lost. This is an album of the heart, and from and for the heart. And it is with the heart that this music is meant to be listened to, primarily. Listen to the romance, the beauty of this serene and sublime music, and wake up to all that is lost.
Gilad Atzmon, and of course The Orient House Ensemble, raise themselves up to the fullest height of their genius with Songs Of The Metropolis. Harrison and bassist Yaron Stavi have never been finer, and drummer Eddie Hick has long put the stamp of his individual style on the OHE. More than ever, The OHE is still the finest jazz band of our time. Atzmon celebrates the latter half of his fiftieth year by transforming himself.
As beautiful as the music is, so the packaging of the CD tries to complement it with a lovely double cardfold with enough spine to identify the album on it.
Ultimately, Gilad Atzmon & The Orient House Ensemble's Songs Of The Metropolis is an often achingly beautiful album, and a hugely enjoyable listen. Everything else is just so many words. A must have and an album to just die for!
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