The Tide Has Changed
Gilad Atzmon And The Orient House Ensemble are celebrating their tenth anniversary this year with the release of The Tide Has Changed, to be released on the prestigious World Village subsidiary label of Harmonia Mundi on 4th October.
It has been a momentous ten years for Atzmon and the OHE that saw them soaring to stellar heights as one of if not the busiest and certainly the foremost jazz ensemble of our time in a remarkably short time. Remarkably few personnel changes took place over those ten years, with original bassist Oli Hayhurst being replaced by current incumbent Yaron Stavi in 2002, and original drummer Asaf Sirkis handing over the traps seat to Eddie Hick in 2009. In an almost incredible and unprecedented short space of time during that first decade of the twenty-first century, Atzmon became its first jazz legend already, his gifts and prowess often rightly compared to and matching those of Charlie "Bird" Parker and John "Trane" Coltrane. A reputation and position that were set in stone with last year's release of In Loving Memory Of America - Gilad Atzmon with Strings, a loving and spectacular homage to Bird and an album of unparalleled beauty.
Now Atzmon wouldn't be Atzmon if he didn't come up with something special for a tenth anniversary album. And of course, with The Tide Has Changed, he, and the OHE, has. Atzmon constantly and continuously surprises - indeed, the greatest surprise would be if he didn't. Like all great geniuses he perpetually re-invents himself. The motto of the OHE really says it all - 'relentlessly, we remind ourselves why we decided to make music in the first place.'
The title of The Tide Has Changed derives from Atzmon's political statement of that name of about the time the album was being recorded, and his perception that international criticism of Israel's policies with regard to the Palestinian people is steadily increasing and that such criticism of Israel is now becoming increasingly "acceptable". After all, if Apartheid in South Africa was unacceptable, why should Israel's policies be any more so?
Yet again with The Tide Has Changed Atzmon shows himself to be as consistently brilliant a composer as he is a performer, with all nine tracks originals. Just over half of them also feature wordless vocals from the OHE and Tali Atzmon. The very tongue-in-cheek opener, Dry Fear, also features an MC, Derek "The Draw" Hussey, introducing the celebration over a beautifully crafted, witty waltz. Thus, the album starts as it means to finish - happy and exuberant.
The title track soon moves into serious bop territory with fiery solos from Atzmon's alto and Harrison's piano. It is a real show-stopper and satisfyingly beefy at just over eleven minutes, making it the longest track on The Tide Has Changed. And So Have We (changed, that is) recalls Middle Eastern melodies and has Atzmon switching seamlessly between alto and clarinet. The mood is nostalgic, yet also positive and forward-looking. Tali Atzmon's vocals are at their most sensuous here. A beautifully sensitive solo from bassist Stavi at the beginning of the second half takes over from Atzmon's brief but gorgeous clarinet. Hick here shows some fine rim work.
Atzmon's soprano reigns on the next track, Bolero At Sunrise. Based around Ravel's Bolero, even on an album as full of superlative and exceptional tracks as The Tide Has Changed, this stands out as exceptionally inventive and inspired. I always remember Atzmon playing Bolero (on clarinet, just by himself, lightyears away in a world of his own) during the sound check for one of the OHE's Pizza Express gigs about five or six years ago. First, note for note, and then briefly playing with it. While Bolero has long been one of my favourite pieces of music (and I strongly suspect, one of Atzmon's, too), that brief impromptu play of Atzmon's has haunted me ever since. It finally seems to have seen beautiful fruition in Bolero At Sunrise. Again, Middle Eastern melodies surface here, as do exceptionally inspired improvs.
London To Gaza sees Atzmon at his most Coltrane-esque, with soaring, sometimes squalling improvs veering into bebop. Ivories king Frank Harrison likewise displays his incomparable bop chops in a rousing solo. Again, Middle Eastern influences are also clearly discernible. Sadness and anguish, even a certain anger, eventually get resolved into something more hopeful and forward-looking. The mood turns elegantly more sombre with We Lament, a beautiful elegy, to change to relaxed and somewhat reflective at times with In The Back Seat Of A Yellow Cab. Balkans and Middle Eastern influences rule in All The Way To Montenegro, a mostly joyful, exuberant high octane piece featuring Atzmon's superb clarinet. The latter frequently displays klezmeresque/Turkish stylings, though often very effectively using the chalumeau and alto registers. The brief closer, We Laugh, continues the exuberant celebratory mood and klezmeresque/Turkish clarinet.
In spite of the odd bit of multi-tracking here and there, The Tide Has Changed is clearly Gilad Atzmon & The OHE's most live-sounding album yet, preserving a lot of the excitement and edge of their live performances. Atzmon's lyricism shines throughout and he is on top form as one would expect. Harrison's golden and equally unmatched ivories are, as ever, simply to die for. The bass of Stavi, ever sensitive as well as uncommonly lyrical, is finer than ever and just incomparable.
And what of the "new kid on the block", drummer Eddie Hick? Anybody would have a very tough job indeed trying to step into the giant footsteps of Asaf Sirkis, but Hick certainly has the right boot size. Even if he is no Sirkis yet (after all, even the likes of Sirkis, Elvin Jones, Tony Williams and Jack DeJohnette had to make a start sometime), Hick really is an exceptional talent and after all, was hand-picked by Atzmon when he attended one of the latter's seminars. He absolves himself more than credibly and honourably, and with confidence and assurance, on The Tide Has Changed and just fits in very well with the rest of the OHE. Better, perhaps, than most more experienced drummers. Still very young, Hick has a long career in front of him and in time, I'm sure, his creative contribution to the OHE can only increase.
Beauty, Atzmon and the OHE prove yet again with The Tide Has Changed, is indeed the way forward. Brilliant. Exciting. Enchanting. Sensational. Full of wit, humour, charm, aching beauty rooted in spirituality, and sheer magic. There simply aren't sufficient superlatives to describe this consistently brilliant and brilliantly consistent, devastatingly inventive and compelling album. Not only that, it is also an unprecedentedly joyful and joyous album, on the whole. It is patently obvious that Atzmon and the OHE not only enjoyed making this album, but still just enjoy making some of the most beautiful music in the world together, period. To call the OHE the tightest band on the scene would be an understatement - these guys aren't just empathic, they're as close to telepathic as you'll find after a decade together.
Equally evident is that these musicians push each other and push hard. Very hard. To paraphrase a certain Barbadian rum ad, "The OHE - the band that spurs each other on." (And the listener, too.) The results are, as in this album, never less than innovative, vibrant, edgy, spontaneous and thrilling.
You may find that your CD (or MP3) player will run red-hot doing overtime playing this album. It certainly hasn't stopped playing here yet and I'm sure won't do for a long while. Like any OHE album, The Tide Has Changed is bound to remain a firm favourite.
Likewise as with any Atzmon album, Gilad Atzmon & The Orient House Ensemble's The Tide Has Changed is way beyond essential in any kind of contemporary jazz collection and an absolute must have for any true music lover. Don't miss out!
Happy tenth anniversary, Gilad Atzmon And The Orient House Ensemble. Here's to the next decade!
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