The Crypt, an uncompromising, “properly” dark venue hosts Gilad Atzmon and his Orient House Ensemble on a cold and drizzly Friday night in South-East London.
This is a venue for hardcore fans and diners, there is just about enough light to see where one is going, especially if one is heading towards the bar or the toilets. But… this is the beauty and fascination of the place: beautifully sinister with walls as thick as a proper crypt should have. The clientèle that has gathered for the night’s performance is other-worldly.
Someone is sulking as she is desperate to find additional stools for her friends to sit on, alas, in vain.
There is something about this crowd, it is of mixed ages, backgrounds, languages. In fact, I believe it has created the perfect atmosphere for a jazz gig. We are, after all, miles away from the Ronnie Scott’s of this world… and yet, this place, like another one of my favourite jazz venue (in Greenwich), Oliver’s Jazz Bar, is part of that journey we all have to experience. Jazz’s fluidity is born out of a venue, too. The Crypt manages that pretty well.
And then, the band take the stage, around 9.30pm, the audience hush and Gilad, followed by Yaron Stavi on double bass, Frank Harrison on piano and Chris Higginbottom on drums open the show with “Gaza Mon Amour” which is from the new album released this month.
Gilad’s sax playing is so prominent, there is no time to think, one is taken in, almost dragged in by the captivating notes of “Gaza”. It is a beautifully melodic but also rhythmic composition. When I first heard it, I was so struck by it, I had to listen to it several times in a row.
The sound of the band playing is made even better by the acoustic provided by the venue.
Yaron’s bass playing is so chilled, I am thinking there might be ice forming around the stage, but the guys pick up together again and there is such a mellifluous sound which is so full of passion, the ice melts, the audience is attentive and starts listening. This is a clear example of how music IS a global language everyone can understand.
Gilad, a driving force, gets the crowd keeping the tempo, nodding and tapping their feet.
A very good start.
Yaron has switched to hugging his bass and plays with such intensity: this is jazz from a different dimension. Then the upbeat sound of Gilad’s sax breaks the spell, the audience had been kept suspended by the most amazing few minutes of music improvisation.
The tempo keeps on growing and it is interesting to see all the heads nodding along to the beat, refreshing to witness such understanding towards a type of music that goes beyond the mere straightforward, there are no straight patterns here tonight.
“The Whistle Blower” – the title track ends the 1st set. There is a reference to what the whistle blower is intended in this case: someone that whistles after someone to express pleasure, a very much Italianesque pursuit.
It’s time for the 2nd set to start. The crowd is eager to have more. There is a guy sitting by one of the walls with his eyes closed, nodding his head gently to the tune that has just started again. Frank Harrison’s piano playing is swift, crisp, smooth.
There is a lovely little introduction before the band play “For Moana” (Moana Pozzi was an Italian porn star who died at the age 33). Having chatted briefly to Gilad during the interval and mentioned my Italian origin, Gilad turns towards me asking me to go on stage and talk about Moana… in Italian, but quite rightly says that perhaps only the two of us would understand it, so a few laughters later, we agree they should just start playing. The track is beautiful and tender reinforcing the romantic side of Gilad.
From inside the album’s cover, part of a quote I cannot help but thinking of:
“I am old fashioned,
An honorary knight
Of the romantic church
I am the imam of retro
And I am happy”
Gilad Atzmon, multi-talented instrumentalist, writer, political animal, romantic, together with the Orient House Ensemble, has created a magical night. It’s cold outside, it is going to be difficult leaving the Crypt with all its quirkiness and fantastic passionate music.