1 Dry Fear [2:12]
2 The Tide has changed [11:10]
3 And so have we [5:07]
4 Bolero at Sunrise [8:49]
5 London to Gaza [9:45]
6 We lament [5:56]
7 In the back seat of a yellow cab [5:42]
8 All the way to Montenegro [4:58]
9 We laugh [1:41]
Total time [55:26]
Gilad Atzmon & the Orient House Ensemble: Gilad Atzmon: Alto & Soprano sax, Clarinet, Accordion and Vocals, Frank Harrison: Piano, Wurlizer Electric Piano, Xylophone and Vocals, Yaron Stavi: Bass and Vocals, Eddie Hick: Drums and Vocals. Guests: Tali Atzmon: Vocals (Tracks 1,2,3,8 & 9), Derek The Draw" Hussey: Master of Ceremonies (Track 1). All music composed by Gilad Atzmon except Track 4 by Maurice Ravel. Recorded at Eastcote Studio, London, England on 24-25 February 2010.
The Orient House Ensemble is celebrating its 10th anniversary, having been founded in London in 2000. It was named Orient House Ensemble in honour of the national headquarters of the Palestinian people in Jerusalem, subsequently seized and occupied by the Israeli Army ( Atzmon himself was once drafted into the Israeli Defence Force). Once you read that you know exactly where Atzmon's coming from, the motivation behind the album and why some of the pieces on this disc are so called. It's always a brave thing for anyone creative to nail their colours to the mast as it will inevitably make enemies in some quarters but people with real principles stick to them. The very title of the album, Gilad Atzmon points out, is inspired by the fact that since "the criminal piracy and massacre" on board the Mavi Marmara aid flotilla, more and more people across the world are seeing much more clearly the brutality of Israeli aggression. It exposed the "lethal behaviour of Israel...not only militarily but politically too because the Israeli cabinet gave clear instructions for this murderous attack" against those who "were killed in the act of giving". Atzmon says that jazz fits into the battle "we must win alongside the Palestinians for the sake of the future of all humanity" because it is a music that demolishes all barriers and ghettoes and puts "all people together through beauty". Atzmon says "I'm doing what I'm doing, saying what I'm saying, making the music I'm making because I want to be able to look into the same mirror every morning and feel in tune with myself and the world". All this needs stating if people are to understand Atzmon and what drives him in the creative process and I make no apologies for doing so.
Now then to the music!
The first track made me think of pre-war Germany as filtered through the film "Cabaret" via Kurt Weill - a short 2 minute reminder of the fun that existed in the Berlin nightclubs in the 30s soon to be cut short by Hitler. There's even a Master of Ceremonies on the track introducing the band as "the remarkable, grand, the magnificent, the incredible, unforgettable, the unforgivable, the one and only Orient House Ensemble". Perhaps the title "Dry Fear" is significant. For me anyhow it tied the anguish and despair felt then later experienced by the Jews of Germany with the same experienced today by the Palestinians. The album's title track is next which is anchored by a Judao-Arabic sound from the mellifluous clarinet from Atzmon backed by the Ensemble's superb piano and rhythm section. Ensemble is a perfect description for the band as each member is inextricably enmeshed with the others producing a fantastically harmonious and homogenous sound. This sound underpins Atzmon's contention that music breaks down barriers and unites people, becoming a real source for good. Track 3 "And so have we" completes the statement and has a lovely and lilting wordless vocal from Tali Atzmon , beautiful bass playing from Yaron Stavi plus extremely effective stick work from Eddie Hick. Track 4 demonstrates once again how wonderfully versatile Ravel's Bolero is and how jazz musicians find ever more inventive ways to `cover' it. I remember how impressed I was at hearing what Jacques Loussier did with it and this version is, if anything, even more impressive and has Atzmon tweaking it along middle-east lines to great effect. It is a truly, gorgeously sinuous take on it with lyrical piano and sax and great, restrained drumming and bass. We then come to "London to Gaza" a plaintive wail from Atzmon's sax with doubling from his accordion (how do they do that live?). Following along the same lines of music tinged with sadness comes "We lament" which is thought provoking and, at the same time, melodically beautiful. "In the back seat of a yellow cab" may be an allusion to the USA but is another lovely tune in its own right. "All the way to Montenegro" gives us music under the influence of the Balkans and very effective it is to and the clarinet is the perfect instrument for it showing the links between music from that part of the world and klezmer which also has its roots in Eastern Europe. Musical melting pots is what it's all about and the fact that there is common ground throughout the world is the message. The final track "We laugh" is upbeat and therefore hopeful that there are goals which can be achieved in life as in music.
Reading the liner notes again later (and more closely) I could see I was on the right wavelength: "Looking over the years, the musical history of the ensemble chronicles a relentless attempt to cross divisions. Exploring the dark wit of Kurt Weill, the melancholia of Tango and the lush nostalgia of strings, the OHE invariably return to their central motif of Arabic melodies and micro tonality mixed with high octane improvised jazz. Together they have struggled to forge a musical language, one that aims to elevate the cry of the oppressed into the roar of liberation".
For anyone coming to Gilad Atzmon for the first time this disc is a great springboard to discovering a highly inventive, hugely talented and ultimately deeply principled musician. From his days as an ex-member of Ian Dury's Blockheads to his satirical novels (!) he's a man that refuses to be pigeon-holed. I'm off to discover more forthwith!