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Talinka, Black Mountain Jazz, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 02/02/2020.

by Ian Mann

February 05, 2020


Ian Mann enjoys a live performance by the quartet Talinka, led by vocalist and songwriter Tali Atzmon, and takes a look at their new album "Rainbow Over Kolonaki".

Talinka, Black Mountain Jazz, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 02/02/2020.

Tali Atzmon – Lead vocals, ukulele, frame drum
Gilad Atzmon – tenor & soprano saxophones, accordion, bass clarinet, guitar
Jenny Bliss Bennett– violin, viola da gamba, harmony vocals
Yaron Stavi – double bass

Tonight’s event represented a welcome return to Abergavenny for Talinka, the quartet led by the Israeli vocalist and songwriter Tali Atzmon. The group had last visited BMJ two years ago, playing an afternoon show to a near capacity audience in February 2018.

This year’s visit coincides with the release of the group’s second album “Rainbow Over Kolonaki”, released on Gilad Atzmon’s Fanfare record label and a follow up to their eponymous début which appeared in 2017.

Also an accomplished actress Tali Atzmon is the wife of the well known multi instrumentalist, composer, bandleader, producer, author and political activist Gilad Atzmon.  Gilad has been a regular visitor to BMJ with his long running working quartet the Orient House Ensemble and also with the band of singer, songwriter and guitarist Sarah Gillespie. The 2013 Wall2Wall Jazz Festival, hosted by BMJ, saw him fronting a free-wheeling trio featuring bassist Tim Thornton and drummer Asaf Sirkis as they paid homage to John Coltrane and Charlie Parker.  He returned to Wall2Wall in 2017 with the OHE for a more formal tribute to Coltrane based around the quartet’s most recent album “Spirit Of Trane”.

Talinka is very different from Gilead’s other projects and is very much Tali’s band.  The quartet features an unusual drummer-less instrumental configuration with Gilad today playing more accordion than reeds. Contributing violin, viola da gamba and harmony vocals was Jenny Bliss Bennett, a musician best known for playing baroque and early music, but who is an open minded artist readily capable of moving easily between musical genres. Anchoring the ensemble was Gilad’s long term musical associate Yaron Stavi, also the bassist with the OHE.

Talinka’s approach is epitomised by their ‘mission statement’, which appears on the cover of their début album;
“Talinka is a music-loving adventure. For us the love of music extends beyond style and genre; we blend folk, early music, jazz, tango and free improvisation. We believe in songs and beauty being vital forces of nature. We adhere to simplicity, harmony and warmth. The outcome is a natural breathing, deep and spacious sonic adventure”.

Today’s performance delivered on that promise with the quartet performing a mix of jazz standards, early music, traditional English and Irish folk tunes and original songs and compositions by Tali and Gilad. All were arranged and delivered in Talinka’s distinctive, indeed unique, style which further borrowed from traditional Middle Eastern music, klezmer and Berlin style cabaret. The material was sourced from both of the group’s albums and included several items that had featured in the 2018 performance.

Tonight’s performance commenced with Gilad taking to the stage alone playing unaccompanied tenor saxophone. He was subsequently joined by Tali for a haunting vocal / sax duet on the jazz standard “If I Should Lose You”, the melancholic atmosphere subsequently enhanced by the sounds of violin and bowed bass as Bliss Bennett and Stavi eventually came out to join their colleagues, with Bliss also adding her distinctive and effective harmony vocals. Instrumentally the highlights were the exchanges between tenor sax and violin, but I couldn’t help feeling that as the lead singer Tali’s voice was a little too low in the mix.

The new album reveals the Atzmons’ ongoing fascination with the folk music of the British Isles and the recording features three arrangements of English and Irish traditional folk songs. “Greensleeves”, reputedly written by Henry VIII, was introduced by Gilad on accordion and Stavi on double bass and featured the harmony singing of Tali and Bliss Bennett, their voices dovetailing most effectively. The piece also featured Bliss playing the viola da gamba, an instrument most closely associated with Renaissance and Baroque music. Bliss Bennett later told me that the six stringed, fretted instrument, which can be both bowed and plucked, is actually more closely related to the guitar than the violin family, although it could reasonably be described as a cross between the two. During the course of the evening Bliss Bennett moved freely between pizzicato and arco techniques, often deploying both during the course of a single song.

Tali brought a real ‘torch song’ feel to the song “I’m A Fool To Want You”, her version inspired by the recording by Billie Holiday. I was interested to learn that the song was written by Frank Sinatra, in conjunction with Jack Wolf and Joel S. Herron. I assume it’s a song that he recorded too, it would be equally suited to his voice. Tali’s emotive vocal was accompanied by the sounds of accordion, bowed viola da gamba and pizzicato double bass, with Stavi taking a melodic solo. The recorded version features Gilad on reeds and includes a significant contribution from guest musician Ross Stanley on acoustic piano.

From the group’s début Gilad’s “Four 2 Tango” featured its composer on accordion, the drone of the instrument underpinning the interlocking plucked lines of Bliss Bennett on viola da gamba and Stavi on double bass, another highly effective combination. Thanks to her use of the pizzicato technique Bliss Bennett plays a rhythmic, as well as a melodic, role in the quartet’s music. This was essentially an instrumental piece but did include Tali’s wordless vocals, the singer pushing her voice into areas of extended technique, her explorations accompanied by the sounds of bellows driven dissonance from Gilad’s accordion.

Tali’s original song “Time Runs Out” featured its composer on vocals and ukulele, her poignant and evocative lyrics, written about her birthplace in Israel, accompanied by the sounds of bass and accordion. Bliss Bennett provided both bowed and plucked viola da gamba as well as harmony vocals. Once again the blend of the two female voices proved to be haunting and highly effective.

That same blend was to feature on Talinka’s arrangement of the traditional Irish folk ballad “She Moved Through the Fair”, with Gilad featuring on clarinet like soprano sax as the Emerald Isle met the Middle East.

The first set concluded with the title track of the new album, co-written by Gilad and the Wales based songwriter Iris Gordijn. Featuring Gilad on accordion, Tali on ukulele and vocal and Bliss Bennett on violin this was a cabaret style jazz waltz. The song takes its title from the Kolonaki district of Athens, the city that is now home to the Atzmons after more than two decades of living in London. It’s also a celebration of music itself with Tali singing the lyric “Music is my Rainbow”.

The band hadn’t been entirely happy with the sound balance during the first set. Half time presented the opportunity to address the issue and the situation was much improved in the second set. The balance was now almost perfect with Tali’s voice now in its rightful place at the heart of the quartet’s sound. As a result the second set was even more absorbing and compelling.

This time Bliss Bennett and Stavi came out first to perform “First Mystery Sonata”, a seventeenth century piece written around 1680 by the composer and violinist Heinrich Biber. Featuring Bliss Bennet on violin and Stavi on double bass this was a delightful performance that reflected Bliss Bennett’s background in Renaissance and Baroque music. I seem to recall these two opening the second half in similar style back in 2018.

Tali and Gilad joined their colleagues for Tali’s “Losing Vision”, a song from the first album written about the plight of Syrian refugees and other displaced persons. Featuring the sound of Gilad’s woody bass clarinet the song borrows from the Barbra Streisand hit “People” with the lyrics “people dream of leaving” and “people dream of loving”. Also featuring mournful bowed viola da gamba the mood was inevitably sombre, but still imbued with a sense of underlying hope.

“Scarborough Fair” represented a second dip into the canon of traditional English folk. A haunting vocal performance, that also included Bliss Bennett’s harmonies, was accompanied by the sounds of accordion, bowed viola da gamba and plucked double bass,. Tali also accompanied herself on a frame drum, not dissimilar to the Irish bodhran. Incidentally it’s not the first time Gilad has visited this particular folk melody. The track “Scarborough” from the 2013 OHE album “Songs of the Metropolis” treats it to a brilliant modal style jazz arrangement in the manner of John Coltrane.

Tali’s new original song “When Apollo Smiles” featured the novel, but effective sound of twenty strings – ukulele, plucked double bass and viola da gamba, plus Gilad on acoustic guitar. Collectively these proved to be an excellent foil for Tali’s wistful lead vocals and Bliss Bennett’s honeyed harmonies.

From the first album came Tali’s “When You’re Gone” with the writer singing emotively above the drone of accordion and bowed viola da gamba. Subsequently Gilad and Bliss Bennett stretched out with a series of instrumental exchanges, supported by Stavi’s anchoring bass.

Also from the first record came its closing track, “Every Now And Then”, a Tali Atzmon original with a poetic, descriptive and highly evocative lyric that has invited favourable comparisons with the work of Leonard Cohen and Tom Waits - and deservedly so. Tonight’s performance featured Gilad on accordion and backing vocals.

The set ended with the cabaret stylings of “Whatever Lola Wants, Lola Gets”, beginning as a slowed down arrangement before the group accelerated the tune with Bliss Bennett taking flight on a violin solo underpinned by Tali’s hand claps and the sounds of accordion and double bass.

Following this energetic final flourish an encore was inevitable and the band remained on stage to deliver an emotive arrangement of the standard “I’ll Be Seeing You”, Tali bringing a sense of loss and yearning to the lyric while Gilad took the instrumental honours with an accordion solo, accompanied at one juncture by only Stavi’s double bass. The recorded version features Gilad doubling on tenor sax and also includes another excellent contribution from pianist Ross Stanley.

Once again Talinka’s performance was very well received by the BMJ faithful. Sound issues detracted a little from the first set but the second half was supremely accomplished and right on the money.

For what is notionally a ‘chamber ensemble’ Talinka embrace a wide variety of musical styles and also inject a welcome energy and passion into their playing, plus an element of humour on occasion. Tali’s voice is well suited to her own material but her interpretations of jazz standards and traditional folk material are also highly original and draw on many musical sources from around the globe.

The only song from the new album not to feature in tonight’s performance was the somewhat melancholic Tali original “Perdita”, a song that also seems to draw on traditional folk musics.

The possibilities of overdubbing allows the group to add an even broader array of colours and textures to the recorded versions with multi-instrumentalist Gilad frequently doubling up. The album also includes guest appearances from the aforementioned Ross Stanley on piano and Billy Pod on percussion.

The album track listing is;

1. Rainbow Over Kolonaki

2. If I Should Lose You

3.She Moved Through the Fair

4. I’m A Fool to Want You

5. Greensleeves

6. Perdita

7. Time Runs Out

8. Scarborough Fair

9. When Apollo Smiles

10. I’ll Be Seeing You

My thanks to the members of Talinka for speaking with me after wards, and for providing me with a copy of “Rainbow Over Kolonaki”.

Thanks are also due to the Arts Council of Wales’  “Nos Allen” or “Night Out” scheme for their support of tonight’s concert.

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