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.”
The Arts Council is not alone. Ian Storror, booker at the Bristol venue he appeared at in late January says: “A Gilad performance is always a tour de force. He will have you laughing out loud one minute and in tears or thumping your fist the next . . . never dull. The musicianship is beyond doubt . . . a ‘not to be missed’ gig on any music calendar.”
As Atzmon’s numerous CD releases attest, there is a strikingly competent and creative musician behind the horns, typically these days the soprano saxophone and clarinet. Both instruments are prominent on Songs Of The Metropolis, the latest CD from Atzmon and his Orient House Ensemble. Gig promoters might just have a vested interest, but no less an arbiter than Robert Wyatt also endorses Atzmon’s musicianship, writing that he is “The best musician living in the world today.”
At risk of biting the hand that feeds, Atzmon is sceptical about the British arts system, about the addition of form-filling to the musician’s skill-set, and it bears on his musical philosophy in general. For all his political sensibility and evident intellectual capacity (his website bears witness to the volume of writing he has done on musical and nonmusical matters), Atzmon holds that jazz at its best is a instinctive activity, one that is in perpetual danger of having its vital power drained by subsidising bodies propelled by an “Enlightenment” view of music.
“What I am saying is not against the Arts Council – I think they are doing a lot of great stuff –but I believe that the existence of an artist should be inherently dependent on the ability to communicate with an audience – I don’t say big audience. The art form that I am involved with is basically the total opposition to the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment is there to praise the thinking human subject. But when it comes to art, the best of it is actually produced when you are totally unconscious.
“This is why the best art – the best jazz – was produced when Coltrane and Bird were making heavy use of narcotic elements. Jazz is a suicidal art form. You sacrifice your livelihood for the sake of music. 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.”
Although public subsidy trickles down to the benefit of just about everyone involved in producing or consuming (or commenting on) the arts, Atzmon’s tour is all his own work except for the help of a couple of agents. It seems of a piece with the dynamic, visceral outlook of this self-made man-musician.
* * * * * *
THE ENTREPRENEURIAL instinct goes back to the beginning. He didn’t play the saxophone, or jazz, until he was 17, and must have worked hard to achieve the technique and musical awareness he typically shows today as conceptualist, composer and soloist. Try, for example, the series of powerfully logical climaxes he creates towards the close of his solo on Tel Aviv on the new album, or the intensity of Buenos Aires at around 6:40. Notice, in addition, the admixture of harmonic movement in pieces that sound deceptively modal.
Lest anybody should suspect there isn’t a lot of jazz here, Atzmon has paid his Real Book dues. He points out that Songs Of The Metropolis is different from his previous output because it moves away from the “D minor, Coltranesque” thing that exemplified such earlier albums as Exile – “except maybe,” he says, “in Scarborough Fair”.
“I really love harmony but we never managed to integrate harmony into the Arabic music we did. It just doesn’t work. I wanted to go somewhere else and this is where I ended up. Paris is written like a standard. Buenos Aires is like a standard. When you look at the page it looks like a jazz tune.”
The jazz wood-shedding happened early, and its fruits were clearly evident in Atzmon’s first UK album, Take It Or Leave It... (1997, Face Jazz). It’s a brave debut with just bass and drums on which he brings a distinctive orientalism to his inflections and phrasing on In A Sentimental Mood and a fresh rhythmic dynamism to Doxy. Rollins would no doubt approve of his ability to let the music breathe. Atzmon’s muscular technique is always at the service of a provocative and witty musical imagination – the sound of surprise even in these late days for the standard repertoire. Where is this tune going to go next?
Jewish identity pokes its head in again as we trace his musical roots. Discovering Charlie Parker in Jerusalem as a teenager was a revelation, and an escape: “You know why we play jazz? Because we want to run away from our Jewish mothers. I was a Jew in Israel. Had to go to the army to die in this idiotic thing. And suddenly I listen to John Coltrane and Charlie Parker and I became a free human being.”
He had no formal musical training and to this day doubts the value of jazz education, citing the ennervating effect of analysis on feeling. “All those jazz schools are there to transform spirit into knowledge. And for me jazz is the complete opposite. What makes jazz horrid and unlistenable is the conscious attempt to make it sound clever. If you want to play music, make me cry. Listen to Coltrane’s ballads, listen to Bird with strings, listen to Alabama, not to these new jazzers who try to play in rhythm signatures you know they don’t feel or understand.”
The drive to genuine, individualised, protestant (small p) feeling seems at the base of all Atzmon does. On the 2003 Exile album the stunning voice of Reem Kelani on Dal’ouna On The Return has all the individualised inflection and passion a jazz fan could wish for. Now the Orient House Ensemble relies mostly on instruments for the same communicative power. Atzmon gets this partly through following the lesson of his musical “gods”, among which are Michael Brecker, Dave Liebman and Steve Grossman, players who have spent a lifetime dealing with the unforgiving realities of standing out in the cut and thrust of New York City. They aren’t, shall we say, “enlightened” Europeans but musicians driven to a certain directness by the imperative to communicate quickly and widely. “You listen to Parker, Coltrane, Brecker – there is simplicity there but not because it is simple.”
The same urgency and clarity of expression can be heard in Atzmon’s playing, and the new record is conceptually a step along the same road. He says it’s a kind of protest (another – “I must always protest against something”) against the mush of cultural homogeneity, the “globalised flood”. It attempts to create clear if nostalgic portraits of once more distinctly differentiated locations. I tell him that Liebman once told me that jazz was now an international music. “Yes,” he says – “nobody cares about it anywhere!” One senses that Atzmon may change that attitude at venues across the globe in the coming months.
WITH a freshly installed piano the Box at the Hen & Chicken, Bedminster proved an ideal setting for the Israeli-born saxophonist Gilad Atzmon to open their new season of jazz nights. Accompanied by The Orient House Ensemble this ultra-cosmopolitan musician performed mainly material from his recently released album Songs of the Metropolis – a jazzman's lament to the lost character of cities once noted for their distinctive musical voice.
The musical arrangements gave ample opportunity for Frank Hamilton on piano and Eddie Hick on drums to display their own skills, while an avuncular Atzmon smiled down happily at his young protégés. The ever reliable Yaron Stavi on bass completed the ensemble.
Switching smoothly between alto and tenor sax, clarinet, and the occasional brief interlude on the accordion Atzmon began with Paris. Not the frenetic American in Paris of Gershwin, but the moody impressionistic Paris of a louche smoke-filled nightclub. Then we were in Tel Aviv with up-beat busy tempos and a slight Yiddish twist. Berlin reflected the unsubtle waltz time of a German oompah band in a beer hall. Vienna, in contrast, had more of a nostalgic valse triste about it.
Atzmon is also a novelist and political commentator with a notoriously abrasive attitude towards the rich and powerful. Between numbers he had a few jibes at the legacy of Bush and Blair in the Middle East, all delivered with his traditional dry laconic wit before he gave us the Burning Bush. He may have mellowed in the 20 years he has been settled in Britain, but his ferociously skilful technique on sax and clarinet has not diminished. London does not feature in his metropolis set, but Britain is unexpectedly represented by an impressive take on the traditional tune of Scarborough Fair. Off again to a chaotic bebop style Athens and then Buenos Aires. Not a lively tango, but a darker sleepy slow lambada. This jazz journey made for a highly satisfying evening before a large and very appreciative .
GILAD ATZMON has been a restless presence on the British and international jazz scenes since the early 1990s, with his garrulous playing style that’s as coruscating and as caustic as his provocative political views. Yet his latest work, Songs Of The Metropolis, finds him mellowing, but only a little, says ANDY ROBSON
Jazzwise Feb 2013 Edition
They call him the hardest working man in jazz. And Gilad Atzmon has no problem justifying that title. “I’m always busy! As you know, I don’t fill out the forms for the Arts Council. I don’t believe it’s down to the tax payers to pay for me loving music. So for me the only way to survive is to keep working.”
And the fruits of that labour keep coming: we’re here to talk about his new release as leader of The Orient House Ensemble, Songs Of The Metropolis. But straight from here Atzmon’s off for a Blockheads gig; he’s every intention of finishing the production of Blockheads bass hero Norman Watt-Roy’s album in the new year, he’s producing long time associate Sarah Gillespie’s new album and, perhaps most exciting of all, there’s “the most expensive album I’ve ever done. Recorded at Abbey Road, a beautiful project, a double album – four sides of vinyl – it’s a tribute to Serge Gainsbourg!”
The energy, the will to succeed, (and not to mention the eclecticism) seems endless. One stereotype, of course, is that Atzmon’s drive reflects the classic immigrant’s need to work twice as hard, to be twice as good as their host, to build their new life in a new land. After all it’s 16 years since Atzmon left Palestine for Cricklewood’s green and pleasant land. But Atzmon doesn’t do stereotypes. If he identifies with any community, it is not one defined by such limited notions as nationhood or ethnicity. Instead his home is among the community of jazz people striving to find new voices, new ways of expression. And for Atzmon these musicians are free of the trammels of time and place: whether it’s Coltrane in New York, Piazzolla in Buenos Aires or Bird all over the place.
Yet Atzmon’s albums resonate with a sense of time and place: only Atzmon can take us from ‘London To Gaza’ and indeed ‘All The Way To Montenegro’ (The Tide Has Changed); only Atzmon has shepherded us from ‘The Land of Canaan’ (Exile) to ‘Autumn In Baghdad’ and, by delicious irony, ‘Spring In New York’ (Refuge). And now, with Songs Of The Metropolis, Atzmon takes us further into the paradoxical locus of his musical
Friday, January 25, 2013
Reviewed by: Ian Mannhttp://www.thejazzmann.com
Atzmon has produced his most mature, and in many ways his most diverse, work to date.
Gilad Atzmon & The Orient House Ensemble
“Songs of the Metropolis”
(World Village Records)
Gilad Atzmon is no stranger to the Jazzmann web pages be it as a multi instrumentalist, composer, author or political activist. So I’ll largely spare you (and myself) the historical spiel with which I normally begin my reviews. Since he moved to London from his native Israel in the late 1990’s the indefatigable Atzmon has become a major figure on the UK jazz scene releasing a series of fine albums with his working group the Orient House Ensemble as well as being a prolific sideman (across a variety of genres from tango to the Blockheads) and an in demand producer. He’s routinely described as the “hardest working man in jazz” (although Seb Rochford must push him pretty close) and his new OHE album “Songs of the Metropolis” is a reflection of his well travelled lifestyle.
Gilad Atzmon & the Orient House Ensemble - Songs of the Metropolis
(World Village 450024. CD review by Chris Parker)
For this, his seventh album with ‘the hardest-working band in jazz’, the Orient House Ensemble (which has been working and touring the world together for twelve years now), Gilad Atzmon has taken as his theme the ability, as he sees it, of the song to ‘counter detachment and alienation’ courtesy of the idea that ‘each city ha[s] a melody, a resonance, a bell, an instrument, a voice’, and that, consequently, ‘beauty is perhaps the last form of spiritual resistance’ to the contemporary malaise for which ‘the planet weeps’.
His band – keyboard player Frank Harrison, bassist Yaron Stavi and drummer Eddie Hick – has the ability to transform itself from a hard-driving acoustic jazz ensemble (their version of ‘Scarborough Fair’, for instance, develops into an almost Coltraneish polyrythmic thrash) into an elegant but punchy fusion band at the flick of a switch, so the various atmospheres Atzmon wishes to conjure up (Paris’s ‘love’, Tel Aviv’s ‘tragedy’, Buenos Aires’ ‘pathos’, Vienna’s sweet charm etc.) are all unfussily evoked by a series of compositions that, while they ostensibly bring out his more contemplative side (and his clarinet playing, in particular, is wonderfully expressive and considered), contain all the steeliness and controlled passion and power customarily associated with Atzmon’s music.
Harrison is all lyrical fluency one minute, operating on acoustic piano, then colouring and shading the next by resorting to everything from Fender Rhodes to glockenspiel. Hicks and Stavi are characteristically alert and vigorous throughout, and overall this is a hard-hitting but wide-ranging set from an admirably tight and robust band led by one of the most charismatic and focused reedsmen on the planet.
January 19 2013
"It’s perhaps ironic that the Israeli-born saxophonist who has fused sounds of the Middle East with US jazz so skilfully should make an album lamenting the loss of local musical identities in a globalised world. Defying bland homogeneity, the saxophonist has composed tunes for his band, the Orient House Ensemble, to celebrate the musical traits of eight cities. Among them, Manhattan is brisk and funky; Buenos Aires is dark and smouldering; and decadent Berlin has clearly had one too many to drink. But it may well be the inspired detour to little Scarborough and its fair that draws the biggest cheers out on tour." (World Village; out Mon)
Songs of the Metropolis World Village ****
This dissident Israeli musician, philosopher and sometime Blockhead seems condemned, if only by his own principles, to wander the world playing music. Atzmon is a thoughtful and articulate opponent of Zionism in his books and articles, so when he picks up one of his many horns it’s clear that there’s more than just music at stake. On Songs of the Metropolis, Atzmon makes a virtue of his peripatetic existence, offering eight fine original compositions inspired by cities around the world where he has performed, from Paris and Berlin to Buenos Aires and his native Tel Aviv. But perhaps the standout is the album’s only cover, an energetic reworking of Scarborough Fair, in which Atzmon and the excellent pianist Frank Harrison do to the old parsley-sage tune what John Coltrane and McCoy Tyner did to My Favourite Things. gilad.co.uk
A calmer-than-usual concept set from the virtuoso saxophonist.
Martin Longley 2013-01-15
Reedsman Gilad Atzmon is renowned for his virtuoso, high-speed, post-bop attack, and also for his equally hyperactive personality. This concept album explores a highly alternative resting ground, where nearly every song is a ballad, and even the occasionally faster-paced tunes emit an aura of relative calm.
Atzmon’s concept is to dedicate his pieces to individual cities, inevitably conjuring an atmosphere of evocative cinematic suggestion. Although this Israeli wit has long resided in London, that’s one of the obvious cities missing from the tracklisting. Instead, Atzmon skirts from Berlin to Buenos Aires, and from Scarborough to Somewhere in Italy.
Some of his followers might find this album frustratingly reflective, but Atzmon should be commended for changing his pace, and opening up his compositional space. It’s an imaginative side-step, and there are already many other Atzmon recordings that capture his fully accelerated soloing skills.
Romantic introversion is at play on Paris, with a clarinet calm that could have passed through the lips of Acker Bilk. There’s a lounge bar easiness, but no blandness on show. Dappled piano and brushed snare and cymbals maximise the mood. All of this dwells within a big ballroom acoustic sound-space.
Tel Aviv has a loping funk feel, with Atzmon wielding a flighty soprano saxophone. A doomy piano chord opens Buenos Aires, sombre and slow as Atzmon exudes his breathy horn purr. The luminous gossamer of Vienna hangs over a delicately traipsing procession. We’re back in that ballroom again...
Gilad Atzmon’s seventh album with his long-running quartet is a peon to a recent past, when urban spaces belonged to the people who lived in them, and cities had distinct emotional characters.
The saxophonist/clarinettist portrays the idiosyncrasies with a masterly blend of controlled passion and sharp focus, eloquently mixing modal jazz, Middle Eastern scales and funky beats.
“Vienna” is captured with a charming waltz, tragedy-haunted “Tel Aviv” with a funk-driven mash-up and “Buenos Aires” with a haunting, stately theme that gains pathos from an echo of accordion.
Gilad Atzmon & the Orient House Ensemble
Songs of the Metropolis
Gilad Atzmon & The...
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