Gilad Atzmon and the Orient House Ensemble at the Cali

Sammy Stein By

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Gilad Atzmon and the Orient House Ensemble
California Club
Ipswich, Suffolk UK
August 18, 2013

Once a month, the California Club, affectionately known as the Cali in Ipswich, Suffolk, is transformed into Ipswich Jazz Club. Seating around 150 people, it was once a Liberal club and is run entirely by friends and members as a non-profit venue for jazz fans. They put on a range of local and international artists and offer a welcome to regulars and newcomers.

On August 18th, Gilad Atzmon played with his Orient House Ensemble whose members consisted of Frank Harrison on keyboards, Yaron Stavi on double bass and Eddie Hicks on drums.

The first half comprised tunes from the band's latest album Songs of The Metropolis (World Village, 2013) and the audience were treated to a range of styles depicting, in musical terms, various cities of the world, including Paris, Berlin, Tel Aviv, Moscow, and Scarborough, not quite a city but a seaside town in the UK. From romantic lilts in "Paris" to the strong marching beats of "Moscow" and the contrasting disco beats interspersed with sirens of "Tel Aviv," each tune conjured up images redolent of the city in question. "Paris" has Harrison's piano set up a romantic, lilting tune with Atzmon's accordion adding a very French feel. "Tel Aviv" was manic, interspersing disco beats with sounds of sirens and tense, hard- hitting riffs, using Atzmon's sax, Stavi's bass and Hicks' drums to create a pervading atmosphere of friction.

"Moscow" had a strong, marching rhythm and was supremely structured to create a brooding, foreboding image of the watching mother state. "Scarborough" was a surprise because what is in essence an English folk tune—"Scarborough Fair"—was improvised to within an inch of its life, yet still remained identifiable. Atzmon took the chance to give a display of sax playing which astounded with his intricacy and key work. If "Scarborough Fair" seemed mundane and familiar before, the Ensemble managed to make a rousing, improvised and outstanding rendition which completely enthralled the listeners.

"Berlin," which finished the first set, was centered around a waltz- time tune which the band played with each member imposing his own take on the overriding melody, creating an easy, strolling number which went down very well with the crowd that had gathered at the club, and demonstrated the ease with which the ensemble was able to slip from one style into another.

The second set included more from the album plus a range of tunes, allowing the group to show its versatility. From sassy, tight little numbers to full-on improvised versions of familiar tunes, the band members all had solos and were given the chance to show their skills. The set started with Buenos Aries—a carnival tune which roused the listeners.In one number,the ensemble started as a quartet and each member melted away, leaving Hicks to give an extended solo. His playing was simply outstanding, his sticks moving in a blur to create strong rhythms, changes in beat and a mesmerizing display of drumming. One look at the completely absorbed audience confirmed their appreciation.

Throughout the performance, Atzmon interspersed the numbers with comments, jokes and politically weighted statements. He has strong views which he couldn't help sharing, but was aware enough of his audience to weigh each statement before speaking (most of the time). He made a joke about not knowing which city the band was in, but quickly regained the audience's affection with comments on the joys of playing in Ipswich again. One of the numbers, "Burning Bush," he said- -after teasing some Americans in the audience about any references to ex-presidents—was about his first girlfriend, a girl of non-western origins, and he asked the audience to listen for the microtones. He then produced an amazing extended alto solo which had Arabic overtones and microtones by the handful, and demonstrated his technical genius and ability to control his reed to produce notes which an alto sax just should not be able to do.

Atzmon is not a born raconteur—his verbal exchanges with the audience were sometimes awkward and his humor hard to grasp, the political overtones to many of his statements proving to be a little wearing,but he more than made up for this with the communication he attains with his music.

Atzmon has been described in The Guardian newspaper as, "The best musician living in the world today" and listening to him, it was easy to understand how anyone might think that. Whether he is playing accordion, soprano sax, alto sax or clarinet, Atzmon is not just playing, he is in the music and the listener cannot help but be drawn into the worlds he is striving to create.

The gig finished with an outstanding rendition of "Georgia" which, as Atzmon said, needed no introduction, and then it was over. When asked how he describes his music, he answered, "Urban Folk," and said he also loves playing small venues and clubs like the one in Ipswich. He came out front, got close to the audience and made a point of speaking to people when he got the chance. The audience knew they had been treated to an experience of rare and special playing, not only from Atzmon but by the other members of the Ensemble who backed him up with uncanny intuition. This lineup has been together since 2009 and is obviously well in tune with each other. There was much expectation at this gig and Atzmon and his Orient House Ensemble did not disappoint.

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