Gilad Atzmon: Jazz as Music and Philosophy

Marta Ramon By

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AAJ: Going back to your next album, Songs of the Metropolis, are you working with The Orient House Ensemble again?

GA: Yes, we are a jazz quartet. We recruit what we need but this time we didn't recruit anyone. One of the problems is that we, the Oriental Ensemble, have toured and played together during the last thirteen years and, oddly, we found musicians who could join us, but as we become older it has also become more and more difficult.

AAJ: What are we going to find musically in this new work?

GA: In this new album I didn't play too much Arabic music. I think Arabic music is now embedded in my playing so it comes out anyway. I've always been fascinated by the culture and the music of the indigenous European. One of the things that strikes me is to try to look deep into the music of the Europeans. For instance, when I play a Parisian tune, we use a harmonium; I am really interested in these instruments. We usually go to a museum and see ancient instruments, but rather than seeing them on the walls I want to know how they sound, it is very important for me because then I can understand where we come from.

AAJ: So this time you are making an approach to a European roots sound-like when you put together bebop and Middle Eastern rhythms-but you don't like to talk about multiculturalism.

GA: Multiculturalism is myth, it is an attempt to actually suppress, to equalize, flatten, the differences. I'm actually very enthusiastic when I hear a rift between cultures. When I put together Arabic and jazz I don't want them to melt, I know how to make them melt and join them together, I know exactly how to do it. I am a producer, I am programmer. But I want to hear the discrepancy, because this discrepancy is the moment of the true debate, it is when the humanity starts to flourish for me. The differences bring you to a different place and this for me is an incredible experience as a musician. For example, in Songs of the Metropolis, the instruments take the music to a new continent, to a new city.

AAJ: Can you separate your music from your politics?

GA: I don't separate anything anymore, I am a package. By the way, I don't do political work, and I am not an activist even though I am very active, I am a writer and I write about lot of things: human rights, issues, philosophy. You'll never find me writing about politics. I am a thinker and I am a musician.

AAJ: Other musicians avoid expressing their ideas because they don't want to mix ideology with music, do you mind that your writing work makes a shadow over the musical one?

GA: I respect people who don't want to talk about those issues in public. I would save myself a lot of problems, but I didn't ask to come to this world, I was thrown, and I have to spend my time here. I want to be interesting and challenging, and that's all. My website is probably more popular than most musicians' because I write about things that get my attention and Jewish identity is one of the main ones. I delve into the issues that are interesting enough to keep me going.

AAJ: Do you think you receive more attention because of your music or because of your books?

GA: It's an interesting question. A lot of music followers don't care about my writing, a lot of the followers of my writing are not concerned about my music. And I quite like both of them. Sometimes I see 25,000 visits to my website in just six hours. I realized a while back that I run three or four extensive careers: full-time writer; full-time musician; full-time musical producer; and sometimes I work as editor. It's quite exhaustive but it's what I am doing, and if I do less I'm bored.

Selected Discography

Gilad Atzmon & The Orient House Ensemble, The Tide Has Changed (World Village, 2010)

Robert Wyatt/Gilad Atzmon/Ros Stephen, ...'for the ghosts within' (Domino, 2010)
Gilad Atzmon, In Loving Memory of America (Enja Records, 2007)
Gilad Atzmon, Refuge (Enja Records, 2007)
Gilad Atzmon, Artie Fishel and the Promised Band (WMD, 2006)
Gilad Atzmon, MusiK (Enja Records, 2004)
Gilad Atzmon, Nostalgico (Enja Records, 2001)

Photo Credit Tali Atzmon


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