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.