Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

More Brilliant Cosmopolitan Tunesmithing From Gilad Atzmon

Israeli-British saxophonist/tunesmith/polymath Gilad Atzmon and his combo the Orient House Ensemble have an intriguing new album out, Songs of the Metropolis, a tribute to great cities around the world. Most of it is streaming at Atzmon’s album page. The band here is the same as on Atzmon’s excellent previous album: the bandleader on alto and soprano saxophones and accordion, along with Frank Harrison on piano, Yaron Stavi on bass and Eddie Hick on drums. As one would expect from an intellect as formidable as Atzmon, it’s no “look ma, I’m playing a tango now” type of genre-hopping; rather, it’s a series of impressions.

Paris, interestingly enough, gets a a staggered latin beat with quivery, bracingly microtonal soprano sax – and then Atzmon switches to accordion and lets the tune relax. Tel Aviv seems to have a split personality, a bounding, energetic groove and also an uneasy undercurrent that shifts from a Zorn/Sexmob cantorial theme to an unexpectedly neat, polyrhythmic reggae b-section. Don’t laugh: reggae is big in Tel Aviv!

Buenos Aires is heartbreakingly beautiful – this long ballad seems to be a requiem, moving slowly from a quiet, moody solo piano intro joined by bowed bass and Atzmon’s slowly diving alto lines. A tentatively steady sway underpins an absolutely morose piano solo followed by Atzmon’s understated, pleading anguish: it’s one of the most devastating songs released this year. A respite from the angst comes with Vienna, which rather predictably goes for old-world ambience, referencing Chopin and skirting the perimeter of schlock. Manhattan, at least through Atzmon’s eyes, is a funky place (and it is), albeit a pensive one, and he doesn’t neglect the latin flavor here. Scarborough gets a lingering, somewhat nostalgic soprano/piano intro, and then it’s obvious that this set not in Maine but in merry olde England, a launching pad for a long, sizzling, modally-fueled, Coltrane-esque Atzmon soprano solo and then a lively workout for the rest of the band.

Moscow gets accordion over heavy drum accents, a Rachmaninoff allusion, and an absolutely gorgeous alto-driven tune with fluttery countermelodies that evokes Ellington at his Suite-era, third-stream peak. Once again, Atzmon backs away from the sturm und drang with the balmy but bracing Somewhere in Italy…and then brings it back with a rippling, refusenik, rhythmic vengeance. He ends with Berlin, a twisted little waltz that alternates between faux beerhall sarcasm and creepy noir cabaret. It’s out now from World Village Music.

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March 27, 2013 Posted by | gypsy music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Edgy Middle Eastern Big Band Jazz from Alon Yavnai

Israeli jazz pianist Alon Yavnai & the NDR Bigband have an understatedly powerful, very smart new album just out, Shri Ahava (Hebrew for “love poem”). He’s playing the cd release show at Birdland this Sunday at 6 (six) PM with a fantastic New York band featuring Paquito D’Rivera and Malika Zarra: if you’re a fan of Gil Evans, or Middle Eastern jazz innovators like Gilad Atzmon or Amir ElSaffar, this is a show you shouldn’t miss.

The album’s most striking track is titled Travel Notes. Yavnai has a long history with D’Rivera, so it’s no surprise that he’d be as fond of melodies and beats from south of the border as he is of the many traditions from his own part of the world. This one takes a bouncy Peruvian festejo groove and works a mighty series of shifting motifs from the orchestra to a biting, Arabic-tinged interlude where the piano mimics an oud. From there they works variations on the theme through rapidfire solos by trumpeter Ingolf Burkhardt and clarinetist Lutz Buchner to a fiery, practically stampeding conclusion. It’s a major moment in recent big band jazz.

Two other equally intriguing tracks are both pastorales that unexpectedly and vividly go noir. Au Castagney is a cinematic epic that leaps from comfortable cinematic ambience to become a spy story set in wine country, with deliciously creepy solos by Yavnai and guitarist Sandra Hempel, who mines some luridly terse Marc Ribot-style tonalities. Then there’s Ilha B’Nit (Beautiful Island), a homage to Cape Verdean music that shifts from lush exchanges of washes carried by two or three voices, to stormier, more rhythmic intensity that brings in some unexpected funk before going out with a darkly memorable bluster.

Bitter Roots is a hybrid Afro-Cuban/Egyptian groove that grows from increasingly agitated cadenzas over a one-chord jam to a series of hypnotic circular riffs. Zriha (Sunrise) builds from bright, optimistic atmospherics to an unexpected wariness calmed by a Frank Delle baritone sax solo, rising matter-of-factly to a clever false ending. The opening, title track juxtaposes pensive solo piano passages with sweeping, majestic charts set to an insistent bossa pulse; the album ends with a requiem for Yavnai’s friend, the late drummer Take Toriyama, brooding solo piano giving way to an exchange of voices that slowly introduce warmer, more comforting variations. Jazz doesn’t get as accessible yet as cutting-edge as this very often.

March 21, 2012 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Haunting and Ecstatic Global Sounds from Gilad Atzmon

Reedman/multi-instrumentalist Gilad Atzmon’s chutzpah is consistent throughout both his music and his politics. His band the Orient House Ensemble takes its name from Yasir Arafat’s old digs (Atzmon is Israeli-British; his politics are progressive, i.e. supportive of the Palestinian people). Innovatively and often hauntingly blending elements of Middle Eastern, Balkan and klezmer music along with jazz, his latest album (which came out in the UK last fall) is characteristically eclectic. Here Atzmon plays alto and soprano saxophones, clarinet and accordion, along with Frank Harrison on piano, Wurlitzer and xylophone; Yaron Stavi on bass; Eddie Hick on drums, and Tali Atzmon providing atmospheric vocalese on many of the songs.

They bookend the album with a playful, carnivalesque waltz and then an oompah dance for a Sergeant Pepper feel, a considerably blithe contrast with the intensity between intro and outro. The expansive title track sets bracing, Balkan-tinged sax over suspenseful piano that grows more otherworldly as Atzmon heads for the stratosphere. There are two gorgeous, bitter, low-key laments here, the first of them winding up unexpectedly on a more optimistic, nocturnal note. A jazzy take on Ravel’s Bolero has Atzmon staying pretty close to the page over a hypnotic, almost trip-hop rhythm; the most memorable number here is the vivid, cinematic London to Gaza. Opening as a judicious, wary mood piece, Atzmon introduces a bright muezzin call followed by Harrison’s darkly tinged, modal jazz waltz and finally a crazed sax crescendo followed by more bustling piano urbanity. Likewise, In the Back of a Yellow Cab traces a long ride, possibly through an Israel of the mind, a slow slinky groove followed by a pair of animatedly orchestrated sax conversations and a more conspiratorial one between the bass and piano. They follow with All the Way to Montenegro, a jolly clarinet dance that breaks down to a long, suspenseful clarinet taqsim before winding up on an ecstatic note. Many moods, many styles, often very gripping. The album is out now on World Village Music.

March 24, 2011 Posted by | jazz, middle eastern music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment