Gilad Atzmon and The Orient House Ensemble: The Tide Has Changed (2010)
The genre-conflating musical behemoth that is the Orient House Ensemble, led by multi-instrumentalist, composer, essayist and political commentator Gilad Atzmon, celebrates its 10th anniversary with the release of its seventh album, The Tide Has Changed. Funny, eerie, romantic and intriguing by turns, this is a work of tremendous warmth and strength. Atzmon's spirit and soul inhabit every one of his compositions, and his playing is truly exceptional, staking a genuine claim to being one of the finest saxophonists in contemporary jazz.
All four of the musicians are at the top of their form. Drummer Eddie Hick, who joined the Ensemble in 2009 at age just 22, is a fine replacement for founding-member Asaf Sirkisgently building washes of percussion on "We Lament," and underpinning the melody with subtly swinging rhythms on "London to Gaza." Bassist Yaron Staviwho, like Atzmon, is Israeli-born but UK-basedtook over from original bassist Oli Hayhurst in 2003. He takes control of the music's core with fluid, lyrical and, at times, darkly brooding playing. Pianist Frank Harrison, an original Ensemble member, is uniformly excellent; his gentle chords on Maurice Ravel's "Bolero at Sunrise" are a delight.
The album opens with "Dry Fear"a dark, disturbing, tune of unknown terrors? No. Instead, Derek "The Draw" Husseyvocalist with The Blockheads, another of Atzmon's bands, and ex-minder to original Blockheads singer and writer Ian Duryintroduces the Ensemble over a jolly tune that wouldn't be out of place on the soundtrack to Cabaret (1972). Perhaps the title is a nod to the anxiety that grips many performers in the minutes before they take to the stage; perhaps it's a pun on drei, vier (three, four); perhaps, neither. But it's definitely funand unexpected.
The album gets under way in more "traditional" Orient House Ensemble style with "The Tide Has Changed." Harrison strums the piano strings as Atzmon builds up a tense, melancholy atmosphere on alto sax. Then, suddenly, Atzmon shifts the mood with an upbeat staccato riff to signal the entrance of Stavi and Hick. The drummer and bassist enthusiastically drive the music on until, once again, the mood darkensthanks as much to their subtle rhythmic changes as to Atzmon's own shift in tone.
Tali Atzmon's wordless vocal on "And So Have We" gives the tune an air of unsettling beautyrather like Krzysztof Komeda's soundtrack for Rosemary's Baby (1968)her voice complementing Atzmon's sad but lovely clarinet and accordion. Elsewhere, most notably on "All the Way to Montenegro" and "We Laugh," the band members join Tali Atzmon to contribute their own enthusiastic vocal refrains.
"In the Back Seat of a Yellow Cab" is wonderfully evocativean intriguingly complex tune. By turns it's languid, intense, sprightly and romantic, terms that sum up the whole of The Tide Has Changed. This is a richly varied recording from one of the most exciting and intriguing bands in jazz; a classic in the making.
Track Listing: Dry Fear; The Tide Has Changed; And So Have We; Bolero At Sunrise; London to Gaza; We Lament; In the Back Seat of a Yellow Cab; All the Way to Montenegro; We Laugh.
Personnel: Gilad Atzmon: alto saxophone, soprano saxophone, clarinet, accordion, vocals; Frank Harrison: piano, electric piano, xylophone, vocals; Yaron Stavi: bass, vocals; Eddie Hick: drums, vocals; Tali Atzmon: vocals (1-3, 8, 9); Derek "The Draw" Hussey: Master of Ceremonies (1).