by Ian Mann
February 13, 2013
Manic energy, earthy humour and political comment all topped off by superb musicianship, there's never a dull moment at an Atzmon gig.
Gilad Atzmon & The Orient House Ensemble / Ruby Rose, Black Mountain Jazz, The Swan Hotel, Abergavenny, 10/02/2013.
This was my first visit to BMJ’s new home, the upstairs function room (it also doubles as the residents’ lounge) at the Swan Hotel in Abergavenny. For this lunchtime/afternoon gig the place was packed to the rafters with fifty diners enjoying Sunday lunch prior to another twenty plus ticket holders squeezing in at the back of the room to hear the music only.
The large crowd was testament to the enduring appeal of Gilad Atzmon who has been a frequent and popular visitor to the town appearing at a variety of venues as the guest of the peripatetic BMJ club. This time round Atzmon was stopping off as part of a jaw droppingly comprehensive British tour in support of the new OHE album “Songs of the Metropolis”, his most mature work to date and an album that rates among his best.
Before Atzmon and his cohorts took to the stage we were treated to a brief support slot by Ruby Rose, a newly formed quintet from the Abergavenny area fronted by guitarist and vocalist Will Cass and featuring Martha Skilton on soprano saxophone, Sam Pearce on trumpet, William Barnes on electric bass and Matt Brown at the drums. Their six song set consisted of four original tunes plus covers of songs by Australian band The Cat Empire and American blues rock guitarist Joe Bonamassa.
The Ruby Rose sound encompasses a fusion of jazz, funk and blues with something of an indie rock mentality and their set began with the original song “Bedtime Story” driven by Brown’s funky back-beat and with Skilton on soprano taking the instrumental honours with a fine fluttering solo. The daughter of BMJ promoter Mike Skilton and a graduate of the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama in Cardiff she’s also a talented tenor player who has led her own jazz groups at the BMJ club.
The Cat Empire’s clever and catchy “Fishes” saw Cass relishing the chance to tackle the Aussie band’s tongue twisting and risqué lyrics with Pearce’s stridently confident trumpeting shining in the instrumental sections. I’ll admit to not having previously heard of The Cat Empire but a glance at their website suggests that they’re a pretty big deal “Down Under”. In the light of this highly enjoyable cover I may have to check them out, they seem to cover a lot of bases, jazz included, with the core sextet sometimes augmented by a horn section.
“Lost Again” was a strong original song with Skilton again starring on soprano and with Cass taking the chance to demonstrate his considerable abilities as a lead guitarist, thus far he’d been content to handle the vocals and just play rhythm. The band’s songs are basically written by Cass but with all the members of the group chipping in with ideas and helping with the arrangements.
Bonamassa’s dramatic and apocalyptic blues “Asking Around For You” was a set highlight with instrumental features for Skilton and Pearce and an increasingly confident vocal performance from Cass.
The earthy funk of the original “Rescuing Again” saw the two horns coalescing to create a convincingly powerful sound before repeating the process on the closing “Forever Girl” which also included features for soprano, trumpet and guitar.
Ruby Rose have only been together for around five months and this young band exhibit considerable potential. Their choice of covers was inspired and Cass has written a clutch of highly promising original songs. The two horn players are excellent and are given plenty of scope to express themselves. BMJ regulars will get the chance to monitor their progress when they return to the Swan to play a full length set on the evening of Tuesday, 30th April 2013. Their punchy “fusion” sound should also hold considerable appeal to non jazz audiences also. In any event these local heroes (and heroine) went down a storm today and were the perfect curtain raiser for Mr. Atzmon, another fearless blurrer of the boundaries.
GILAD ATZMON & THE ORIENT HOUSE ENSEMBLE
“Songs of the Metropolis”, the new album from Atzmon’s “working band”, the long running Orient House Ensemble, is arguably less obviously political and confrontational than some of Atzmon’s previous recordings. Instead it’s a paean of praise to the nomadic lifestyle of the travelling musician and of the sense of place to be found in both the world’s great cities and in the quieter corners of the globe (witness “Scarborough” and “Somewhere In Italy”, tunes that both featured in today’s set).
Not that Atzmon has mellowed out on us, In performance he’s still a larger than life character, sometimes challenging, sometimes surreal and more often laugh out loud funny as he jumps from subject to subject like a bee in a particularly colourful flower bed. His adrenaline fuelled between tunes verbiage is matched by his brilliant playing on a variety of instruments, today alto and soprano saxes, clarinet and accordion. Atzmon is ably supported by his trusted lieutenants Frank Harrison (keyboards), Yaron Stavi (double bass) and relative newcomer Eddie Hick (drums).
Every tune on the new album is named after a location and Atzmon and his colleagues began with album opener “Paris” with Atzmon moving from accordion to clarinet as the ensemble evoked a feel of an idealised Paris - nostalgia, both real and imagined is a recurring theme throughout the new album, something that Atzmon first explored on the 2001 album “Nostalgico”.
Harrison plays acoustic piano beautifully on “Songs..”, here his set up consisted of a Technics electric piano and an M Audio synth but he still sounded great. Harrison is the kind of musician who has the ability to adapt his playing to the sound of the electric instrument and his opening solo was lovely, followed by the more assertive sound of Atzmon on clarinet, his quote laden solo full of allusions to jazz’s “Golden Age”.
If Paris represented a wistful opening then “Tel Aviv” was a reminder of the archetypal angry Atzmon as the rifle like crack of Hick’s snare detonated the bustling urgency of this piece depicting the ferment of Atzmon’s home city. Loving where you come from but sometimes hating it as well is something I can relate to and I thrilled to the angry buzz of Atzmon’s soprano above Harrison’s steady piano comping and the drive of Hick’s drums. However it wasn’t all hammer and tongs as Atzmon explored in more reflective mood above Harrison’s synth drone with the keyboard man later taking over on electric piano.
Each tune on “Songs…” has a kind of dedication, Moscow’s is “in honour of greatness”. Atzmon’s piece in homage of the Russian capital exhibited a certain grandeur and gravitas courtesy first of Harrison’s keyboard intro and the mallet generated thunder of Hick’s drums. Solos from Atzmon’s alto and Stavi’s double bass continued the mood with Atzmon temporarily switching back to accordion mid tune.
Rambling off the beaten track is an essential part of any Atzmon show and prior to playing “Scarborough” he got young drummer Eddie Hick to demonstrate his ability for “beat boxing"which drew an impressive round of applause.
Atzmon explained his choice of “Scarborough” as the album’s English song by lamenting the homogeneity and lack of character of London. No doubt Scarborough was chosen partly in honour of its annual jazz festival but perhaps also because it gave Atzmon the opportunity to take the folk melody of “Scarborough Fair” and mutate it into a modal, John Coltrane like tour de force in much the same way as Coltrane liberated “My Favourite Things”. Atzmon’s increasingly impassioned work on soprano was complemented by Hick’s explosive drumming with Harrison providing a quieter interlude between two bouts of exquisite saxophone bluster.
The first set ended with “Berlin”, a kitsch beer hall sing along featuring Stavi’s bowed bass and Atzmon on alto with the leader introducing the band as his henchmen warbled the chorus. A lighthearted way to end an excellent first set that had visited many moods and many locations.
The turnaround was pretty quick, Gilad and the gang were later moving on to a second performance of the day across the Severn Bridge at Bath and with the weather in a particularly foul mood they didn’t feel overly inclined to hang about. Further evidence here of Gilad deserving that “hardest working man in jazz” tag.
The second set kicked off with “Buenos Aires”, which the record dedicates to “pathos”. The piece began in trio mode with Atzmon on alto and with Stavi again making use of the bow, these two first joined by Harrison and later by Hick who added military sounding snare to the tango induced sadness generated by his colleagues. Harrison’s electric piano solo was another unexpected delight.
The air of nostalgia and regret invoked by “Buenos Aires” was transported to “Vienna” where Atzmon chose to depict “the charm of sweetness” by means of a waltz; sometimes his depictions can be quite literal and owe something to readily recognised and established conventions. It’s an appropriately appealing piece highlighted here by solos from Atzmon on alto and Harrison at his Technics keyboard.
Next came “The Burning Bush” from the OHE’s excellent 2007 album “Refuge” which included the most obviously Middle Eastern influences on Atzmon’s playing since “Tel Aviv” in the first set. The piece also included Atzmon’s Middle Eastern style vocalising as he conducted a bizarre kind of call and response between himself on alto sax and vocal. Elsewhere there was an extended solo drum passage in which Hick impressed with his power and precision, dissonant accordion from Atzmon, and a bridging passage of synth and piano as Atzmon switched back to alto sax, throwing in a quote from the jazz standard “All Of Me” before the band launched themselves into “the big finish”.
“Autumn In New York” began as a lush ballad movingly played by Atzmon on alto sax to the accompaniment of Hick’s brushed grooves before a duo passage of alto sax/electric piano served to emphasise the musical closeness that has developed between Atzmon and Harrison, the only consistent elements in the OHE’s decade plus existence. A drum salvo from Hick heralded the second part of the tune, a far more lively affair incorporating Latin rhythms and further madcap group vocalising. In truth the piece seemed to be an amalgam of the tunes “Autumn In Baghdad” and “Spring In New York” plus “My Refuge” all from the “Refuge” album. I guess it was all in keeping with the general geographical theme of the show.
Mike Skilton coaxed the band back to the stage for an encore and Gilad and the guys let us down gently with the wistfully nostalgic “Somewhere in Italy” from the new record with solos from Harrison on electric piano and the leader on soprano sax. Even here Atzmon couldn’t resist injecting a touch of humour into the proceedings as he tossed in a quote from the theme to “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly”.
With his blend of manic energy, earthy humour and political comment all topped off by superb musicianship Gilad Atzmon remains a force of nature. He may challenge his audiences but he’s also a superb entertainer who knows how to pace a show, there’s never a dull moment at an Atzmon gig. More importantly his albums stand up to repeated listening and even those who either don’t understand or disagree with his politics (although born Jewish he is an avowed anti Zionist and effectively exiled from Israel) can’t fail to be impressed by the man’s musicianship. This thought provoking artist has become one of the leading figures on the UK jazz scene, always a popular concert draw (particularly so in Abergavenny where he played one of his first gigs after first coming to the UK in the 1990’s) and with an increasingly impressive recorded catalogue. No doubt there will be plenty more to come.
This was a terrific start to BMJ’s 2013 concert programme. For details of future events please visit http://www.bmjazztumblr.com
Remaining dates on Gilad Atzmon & The Orient House Ensemble’s tour are;
14 The Boat House Broxbourne
15 The Verdict, Brighton
21 Album Launch Pizza Express Jazz Club Dean Street, Soho , London
22 Album Launch Pizza Express Jazz Club Dean Street, Soho , London
23 Album Launch Pizza Express Jazz Club Dean Street, Soho , London
24 Jags, Ascot
27 Y Theatre, Leicester
2 Posk Jazz Café, London
5 The Stable, Milton Keynes
7 Bonington Theatre, Arnold, Nottingham
9 St.Marys, Sandwich
10 -12 Town Hall, Shetland Island + master classes
13 Jazz Bar Edinburgh
14 Jazz Bar Edinburgh
15 The Brewery Arts Centre, Kendal, Cumbria
16 Band on the Wall, Manchester
17, Herts Jazz, Welwyn Garden City
Further information at http://www.gilad.co.ukblog comments powered by Disqus