Gilad Atzmon and the Orient House Ensemble ‘The Whistle Blower’ (Fanfare) 4/5

gilad-atzmonIf the name Gilad Atzmon is not already familiar to you, then the chances are that you will have already heard his wonderful multi-reed skills on a song by either Robert Wyatt, the Blockheads, or even Paul McCartney, and quite likely on the most recent album by Pink Floyd. However, as a leader Atzmon has focused on showcasing the Middle Eastern flavours of his native Israel, though he is equally a vociferous supporter of a Palestinian state and his live performances bear testament to this belief. This is now the eighth album recorded by this particular formation, Gilad Atzmon’s fourteenth in total, and this acquired experience is demonstrated by the ease and assurance with which this band now operates. The name of John Coltrane had frequently been evoked to reveal Atzmon’s influences and one can make a valid parallel when the leader delivers a lovely evocative clarinet solo on ‘Gaaz mon amour’, complete with sparse accompaniment. Certainly on the high parts there are Coltranian hues and an underlying modal feel that recalls ‘A Love Supreme’. Yet in spite of impressionistic shades of spiritual jazz, Gilad Atzmon is very much his own man and fully able to soak up more traditional jazz influences as on the atmospheric old-school alto saxophone of ‘Romantic Church’ where it is Johnny Hodges whose sound Atzmon most resembles and this opinion is reinforced on another gorgeous ballad, ‘Forever’, on which the leader performs on soprano. Back in a deeply spiritual mode, the epic eleven minute plus ‘Let Us Pray’ starts off in a quiet vein before expanding out into a startling release of tension with Atzmon laying down a fine solo on soprano. Mention must be made of the excellent rhythm section that seems to have modelled itself on the mid-1960s classic Coltrane quartet with newcomer drummer Chris Higginbottom, a relative new member of the group, and yet he fits in as if a seasoned musician. Pianist Frank Harris provides excellent accompaniment, both acoustically and on subtle textured keyboards. One of the most enjoyable releases of the year so far. An extensive UK tour has been underway since January including the 606 Club in London and will continue until the very end of April, now concentrating on the east of England ending in Oxford on 30 April.

Tim Stenhouse