Gilad Azmon and the Orient House Ensemble - The Spirit of Trane
(Fanfare FF1702. CD Review by Sarah Chaplin)
Fifty years on and it’s good to know that we have saxophone players in our midst like Gilad Atzmon who are not only brilliant in their own right, but are also capable of channelling the sound, the energy and the extraordinary creativity of jazz giant John Coltrane. Moreover, Atzmon has followed through on his enthusiasm for his muse by bringing out a celebratory album of – I want to say supreme – richness and quality. The Spirit of Trane is more than an exercise of paying homage to a great mentor, it is also a speculation about some of the places Trane might have gone had he lived longer.
The album takes in several of Coltrane’s seminal compositions such as Naima and Giant Steps, as well as standards he favoured like Soul Eyes and Invitation, revivifying them with the help of the Orient House Ensemble (Yaron Stavi, Frank Harrison, Enzo Zirilli) and augmenting this mouth-watering offering with the addition of strings from the Sigamos Quartet, arranged by Ros Stephen. Equally at home here is a lengthy but vibrant version of one of Atzmon’s own pieces, Minor Thing, and the whole album has been beautifully mixed by Atzmon himself, demonstrating his skill as producer.
Coltrane died when Atzmon was only four years old, but at 17, when he took up playing tenor, it was because of Trane. In addition to emulating aspects of the set-up Trane used, this long-held admiration has contributed an expansion of the signature Atzmon sound to encompass the full-throated, languid, melt-in-the-mouth type of edge that Coltrane possessed. A few years back I saw Atzmon perform a Coltrane-inspired set at the Watermill, deconstructing a simple rendition of Scarborough Fairinto a complex polyphonic love affair, before landing it safely back on the runway as if nothing out of the ordinary had just happened. It was mesmerising. This album is all of this and more: great tenderness for Coltrane’s music legacy but nothing slavish, shimmering strings with no trace of schmaltz, stark accents and bleak moments without feeling like you’ve crossed over to the dark side. Ravishing stuff.
Gilad Atzmon & the OHE will play at the 606 Jazz Club on Thursday 23 November at 8.30 PM
Amazon.co.uk are sold out momentarily (good news)
By John Ephland
Saxophonist Gilad Atzmon, a former Israeli citizen living in London since 1994, remains a veritable planetary citizen, a traveling artist who fuses his inner jazz urges with a deep passion for the political.
A multi-instrumentalist who plays soprano, alto, tenor, baritone, clarinet and flute, the 54-year-old Atzmon is currently touring off a new book, Being In Time–A Post-political Manifesto (Skyscraper), and three new albums: the alternately straightahead and romantic The Spirit Of Trane (Fanfare Jazz) with the Orient House Ensemble: pianist Frank Harrison, bassist Yaron Stavi, drummer Enzo Zirilli and the Sigamos String Quatet; the lovely and the haunting folk/gypsy jazz of Talinka (MoonJune) with vocalist Tali Atzmon, multi-instrumentalist Jenny Bliss Bennett (violin, viola, flute and vocals) and Stavi, Harrison and Zirilli; and World Peace Trio (Enja) with Dwiki Dharmawan on piano and synthesizers and Kamal Musallam on oud, guitar and MIDI guitar (also featuring Ade Rudiana on kendang, frame drummer Nasser Salameh and drummer Asaf Sirkis).
He evokes the image of a soul man with ideas, spurred on by a love affair that began when he was a teen growing up in Jerusalem.
Charlie Parker looms large in your musical life.
I fell in love with jazz when, one evening in my late teens, I heard Charlie Parker With Strings. I think it was Bird’s rendition of “Laura.” That omnipotent saxophone flying effortlessly over the lush string orchestration left an incredible impression on me. The next day, instead of going to school I went to Piccadilly Records, the one and only music shop in Jerusalem, and bought everything they had with Charlie Parker, three vinyl albums. A week later I rented a sax.
And, soon after you became a student of the music.
In the 1970s there was a tsunami of Russian Jewish immigrants flooding Israel; great mathematicians, doctors, musicians and some incredible jazz artists. One of them was Boris Gamer, my jazz mentor. Boris was a phenomenal tenor player. He managed to teach me everything I needed to know in six or seven sax lessons. For Boris, like for [German philosopher] Martin Heidegger, to teach is to teach others how to learn. I learned to concentrate on my problems, to develop personal exercises and then practice, practice and practice. Within a few weeks I started to gig, and my music career has evolved naturally from that point onward.
You’ve been on many albums over the years. What are some of your favorites?
I’ve been playing for 17 years with the same group: The Orient House Ensemble. We have recorded many albums and played thousands of gigs together. My favorite Orient House Express album is Refuge [Enja, 2007]. This was the last album we recorded with Asaf Sirkis, our drummer for 10 years. After Asaf left, bassist Yaron Stavi, pianist Frank Harrison and I continued and recorded many more albums with different drummers till we added Enzo Zirilli, who is the right drummer for us. I loved recording In Loving Memory Of America [Enja, 2009], our tribute to Bird. Similarly, The Spirit Of Trane was a unique nostalgic project. You learn a lot digging into the work of your heroes.
You’re also a published author. What about your evolution as a writer as something parallel to your evolution as a musician? Are there connections between your work as an author and as a jazz musician?
It’s been said that a jazz artist is a person who doesn’t repeat the same phrase once [chuckles]. To be a jazz artist is to reinvent yourself on a daily basis. While this is an idealized vision, I do try to recreate, to sound fresh. The same applies to my approach to writing. Initially, I wrote fiction. But after 9/11 I went through a radical change in my thoughts. I realized that the world in which we live is foreign to us. There was a sense of estrangement. We, the people, had been reduced into a bunch of consumers, the politicians had left us behind. The liberal dream was melting rapidly and I wanted to grasp it all.
I was probably the first to write extensively on ID politics and Jewish ID politics in particular. I bought myself many enemies. Being critical of Israel and Jewish politics cost me many gigs, it harmed my international career, but I do not regret it a bit. I make a living being myself. For me, to go to work is to be Gilad. We’ve been betrayed by our academics, media, politicians. No one tried to warn us that the world as we knew it was being pulled out from under our feet. As it seems this job has been left to an ex-Israeli saxophonist, I really try to do my best. DB
GILAD ATZMON AND THE ORIENT HOUSE ENSEMBLE - The Spirit Of TRANE
By Eddie Myer
Gilad Atzmon - tenor & soprano sax, clarinet, bass clarinet & flute; Frank Harrison - piano; Yaron Stavi - bass; Enzo Zirilli - drums
With the Sigamos String Quartet
Ros Stephen - violin, arranger; Marianne Haynes - violin; Felix Tanner; Laura Anstee - cello
As 2017 marks the 50th anniversary of the death of the man who still bestrides the music like a colossus, there’s a slew of celebratory and commemorative releases. Coltrane’s most commonly audible legacies today are perhaps his speed, harmonic ingenuity and extreme prolixity - whenever a young sax player takes innumerable choruses at breakneck tempo and unwavering fortissimo, they can justify their artistic choice by pointing to Trane’s legacy, as filtered down via such athletic virtuosi as Joe Henderson and Michael Brecker. Atzmon is a familiar figure on the UK musical landscape, renowned for his forceful playing and equally uncompromisingly assertive personality, and one might have been forgiven for expecting a high-velocity barnstorming shredfest from this offering. Refreshingly, Atzmon and co have taken an entirely different approach to this tribute. A clue is offered by the presence of the Sigamos String Quartet, who collaborated on the well-received ‘Gilad With Strings’ project - another by the tracklisting. Of the eight compositions, only three are by Coltrane himself - ballads predominate over cookers.
The album opens with Ellington’s ‘In A Sentimental Mood’ - pianist Harrison replays the motif introduced by Ellington on his collaboration with Trane, rich-toned bassist Stavi takes the first carefully considered solo, and Atzmon’s contribution is an exercise in restraint, simply stating the melody with every note given it’s full weight of conviction and intensity before taking flight in an emotionally charged coda . ‘Invitation’ is taken at a slow, sultry rumba, allowing space for the eastern inflections that characterise Atzmon’s playing, convincingly integrated into the jazz language. The tune showcases the beautifully poised, reflective work from the superb Harrison, a quietly virtuosic player whose unique imagination and lightness of touch deserve to be more widely celebrated. ‘Minor Thing’ is perhaps closest to the usual high-intensity modal Trane tribute, but the rhythm section’s use of space still allows in some air and light, providing an eminently sympathetic environment for Harrison’s particular talents to shine and allowing for a demonstration of how Atzmon remains a unique voice on tenor, his full-bodied tone overlaid with keening, yearning vocalisations that are all his own.
Throughout, Atzmon points towards some less generally recognised aspects of Trane’s output which perhaps come closer to illuminating the spirit of his music; the strings and multi-tracked reeds imply the kind of textural explorations that Trane briefly employed on ‘Africa Brass’ , while ‘Soul Eyes’, the Mal Waldron composition he championed on his eponymous ‘Coltrane’ release in 1962 illustrates his mastery of the ballad. Atzmon confounds expectations again by taking the inevitable ‘Giant Steps’ at an easy lope, with Harrison’s delightful solo introducing a west-coast cool in place of the original hard bop charge before the quirky sign-off, and ‘Blue Trane’’s implacable blues-heavy swing is subverted into a soprano-sax led 7/4. The album closes with a beautiful rendition of ‘Say It Over And Over Again’ - riding on an airy cloud of strings, Atzmon states the melody before handing over to the impeccable Harrison, and only departs from it to construct a posed, melodic final cadenza. This is a really outstanding record that achieves the difficult task of acknowledging the spirit of Trane without being overwhelmed by his legacy - an authentically creative transformation that is a more fitting tribute than a host of imitators.
Gilad Atzmon & The OHE will be playing The Spirit of Trane at the 606 Jazz Club, London on Thu 23 Nov.
GILAD ATZMON INTERVIEW By Charlie Anderson
Back in 2009 Atzmon released his tribute to Charlie Parker on his album In Loving Memory of America, a collaboration with violinist and arranger Ros Stephen and the Sigamos String Quartet. Atzmon has collaborated with them again for his 2017 albumThe Spirit of Trane. “I really like working with strings and with Ros Stephens. And this kind of flashiness that I hear in Coltrane’s Ballads and the album with Johnny Hartman. However, I think that Coltrane never worked with strings so we do something for him.”
In paying tribute to Coltrane, Atzmon was keen to avoid any kind of mimicry and to focus instead on trying to capture the spirit of Coltrane, hence the title of the album. “John Coltrane was always my greatest possible hero and 50 years without Coltrane is a good excuse to explore how close I can reach, at least spiritually. We didn’t try to mimic him but we tried to sustain an aspect of the spirit.”
Atzmon is keen to capture this spirit on all the different instruments that he plays. “When it comes to soprano, I think that I’m pretty close. When it comes to tenor, I’m still searching intensively, but I’m getting there. I don’t try to mimic the sound. I try to bring this free spirit that is associated with the quartet, which I really, really like.”
“For most of my time, living in this country, for the last 20 years, I’ve played mostly alto, but I’m originally a tenor player. A lot of people who like my alto playing can recognise that it’s very tenor-ish. And when I play tenor, because I’ve played alto in the past two decades, I’m exploring the bottom range so for that reason, on the album, I sound more like Joe Henderson, which is not a bad thing, I guess.”
Currently in the middle of a busy tour, Atzmon is excited about the positive effect that performing the music has had both on him as a musician and on the band. “We’ve done 20-30 gigs already as a quartet and the impact of playing this music every night is incredible.”
Audiences have similarly been impressed with performances. “I don’t remember us selling so much merchandise in years! People really want to take it home.” The Verdict in Brighton is one of Atzmon’s favourite places to play and he’s excited about returning there with his latest project. “It’s going to be a great gig.”
Gilad Atzmon performs at The Verdict, Brighton on Friday 3rd November, 2017.
For more on Gilad Atzmon: www.gilad.co.uk
The album The Spirit of Trane is out now on the Fanfare label.
Photo of Gilad Atzmon and Yaron Stavi by Lisa Wormsley (cropped from original).
In the world in which we live, Black lives do not matter at all, Palestinians are imprisoned behind walls, Syrians are dispossessed refugees, Bangladesh is under water. The revolution is not an event in time, it is an on going task. To Be in Time is to accept that we, the people, were institutionally betrayed by our politicians, media, academia and even by the cultural industry that reduced beauty into a commodity. The only people who are left to tell the truth are us, the deprived jazz artists. Why? Because we have nothing to lose (and probably nothing better to do).Read More
Describing tonight as ‘Coltrane light’ this constantly touring sax supremo – who the Guardian once described as ‘the hardest-gigging man in British jazz’ – and his excellent band pay homage to one of the greatest jazzmen of all time with The Spirit of Trane.Read More
If you have not witnessed Gilad in action before then you have yet to witness a force of nature!
A larger than life character with a seemingly abundant store of energy, he not only tours constantly with his Orient House Ensemble band but works with many other projects including the Blockheads, Pink Floyd, Paul McCartney and Robert Wyatt. Yet still he finds time to be a political activist for change in his country of birth, Israel.Read More
Within moments of opening number In A Sentimental Mood all of my fears had been allayed. Gilad is a world class musician in his own right, as were the Orient House Ensemble – Frank Harrison on keys, Yaron Stavi on double bass and Enzo Zirilli on drums. The packed, seated audience were immediately drawn in and for the next hour it only got better. Most of the songs were either Coltrane originals, or pieces which he used to perform, but there were also a few originals included, most impressively a track called (I think) Minor Key from the new album. It instantly sounded like we’d heard it before – the trademark Coltrane ‘sheets of sound’, the constantly shifting beat, the strolling bass and keyboard stabs underpinning the piece. Almost as though some epic Coltrane recording had been unearthed from a long forgotten vault.Read More
'The Spirit of Trane' is released simply because, for Gilad Atzmon, it is a chance to acknowledge possibly the greatest and most influential tenor sax player in jazz history. Gilad says, "whether it is his patented sheets of sound, his rapid fire improvisations, advanced harmonic progressions or lush interpretations of ballads, no aspiring music lover can afford to neglect the music of 'Trane" . As Gilad handed me one of the first copies of the CD at a gig recently he told me, you will love this'. He was, as he sometimes is, right. ♦Read More