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...For The Ghosts Within (Domino WIGCD263) – Gilad Atzmon And The Orient House Ensemble (World Village 450015)
Tuesday 23 November 2010


Israeli sax master Gilad Atzmon's collaborations remain as fluid, complex and competent as ever

The Tide Has Changed is the sixth album of the Orient House Ensemble, led by the Israeli altoist Gilad Atzmon, formed a decade ago and named in honour of the headquarters of the Palestinian people in Jerusalem.

"Ten years ago I realised that beauty is the way forward", Atzmon writes in his sleeve notes. And listening to his solo work on the title song after the hokum of the introductory track, you recognise too how the sheer beauty of his sounds - a unique amalgam of Hebraic, Arabic and jazz traditions - has gained authority, sonic unity and huge emotional depth during those years.

The quartet has a new drummer - Eddie Hick - with the ever-inventive Frank Harrison on piano and the pulse of Yaron Stavi on bass. Hick's rattling snares open And So Have We with Atzmon's clarinet, an expression of the Atzmon dictum that "the melody is the truth".

The Ensemble's version of Ravel's Bolero At Sunrise sits at the very altar of melody, an astonishing piece in a surprising context where Atzmon sweeps through a complex hybrid of sound patterns.

In the album's linchpin track - London To Gaza - the journey begins in Harrison's introductory phrases and winds through Atzmon's melody. Narratives are implied through the listener's own cultural experience, giving the impression of reading trench poems by Owen, Sassoon or Rosenberg, so much does Israel's murderous war and blockade strike at your ears, brain and heart.

Harrison takes fire too on his keys, and We Lament is a tailpiece of the union of agony and beauty in that besieged strip of the world.

The squeeze of Atmon's accordion sounds alongside his own alto, slowly traversing through In The Back Seat Of A Yellow Cab, while in All the Way to Montenegro the journey is a dance with infectious musical joy gathering rapidity as it progresses.

The grounding qualities of this unusual album lay in the unity of a surprising harmony shared between Atzmon's horns, the Sigamos String Quartet led by Ros Stephen and the voice or Robert Wyatt.

Atzmon and Sigamos came together in 2008 to cut the album of song-book ballads In Loving Memory of America once performed by Charlie Parker. But ...For The Ghosts Within is a very different creation indeed, made so by the addition of Wyatt's fragile, lifeworn and vulnerable voice, whose overwhelming power stems from its position as the mouthpiece of the everyman.

Before Atzmon blows a chorus of huge power and tenderness, Wyatt reaches the pained heart of exclusion as he warbles Laura and What's New? and "those whose lives are lonely too" in Billy Strayhorn's Lush Life.

The rich string framework offered to Ellington's In A Sentimental Mood suddenly cracks and Atzmon blows alone, hovering over the melody like some giant-winged eagle. The strings shimmer with amazement as Wyatt - his voice shaking with astonishment - sings time and again "At last I am free, I can hardly see in front of me" over Julian Rowlands' bandoneon.

Lullaby for Irene - an elegy by Ros Stephen and Alfie Benge - is especially moving, beginning with a shuddering horn and mournful strings. Atzmon's beautifully deep, liquid clarinet chorus coupled with Wyatt's vocal completes a rare fusion of incongruous sounds.

The final track is his version of What A Wonderful World, a song made famous and iconic by the first great superstar of jazz, Louis Armstrong. Wyatt sings it filled with the optimism of life and an bizarre balance of intimacy and detachment.

And when he tells you through the lyrics that "I hear babies crying and watch them grow/They'll see much more than I'll ever know,"w you believe him. As Atzmon supplements the ordinary words with the extraordinary eloquence of his chorus the album ends at the zenith of melody.

A strangely compelling album is ...For The Ghosts Within, and one not easily forgotten.