Gilad Atzmon & The Orient House Ensemble Live At Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club
Gilad Atzmon - soprano & alto sax, clarinet
Frank Harrison - piano
Yaron Stavi - double bass
Eddie Hick - drums
Date of Review: 2010/10/03
Even before the end of the sold-out First House, a substantial queue was already forming for the Second House outside Ronnie Scott's. Soon after 10pm, the First House crowd started emerging, many clutching OHE CDs, a good mix of young and old, all evidently having had a highly enjoyable evening. Some enthused in glowing terms about the performance to friends waiting in the queue. But such scenes have become a commonplace at gigs featuring the incredible Gilad Atzmon & The Orient House Ensemble.
And Friday night was a particularly momentous occasion, the launch of the album celebrating the tenth anniversary of Gilad Atzmon & The Orient House Ensemble, The Tide Has Changed. (Available in stores and online from Monday, 4th October.) Who would have thought it possible that the OHE, this most seminal jazz band, has already wowed crowds and reviewers alike for a whole decade!
I well remember how when first hearing a track from their eponymous debut album, I could hardly wait to hear the rest of Gilad Atzmon & The Orient House Ensemble. It was something akin to being hit on the head with a hammer. As somebody who had practically grown up on the old super giants of jazz like Bird and Trane, I was at once amazed and delighted to hear in Gilad Atzmon that same potential, that same buzz and excitement that only true super giants deliver. Was it really possible that a whole generation after the death of John Coltrane, and after all the stagnation that had crept into jazz, here at last we had a new super giant, a jazzman of not only supreme virtuosic skill and musicianship but solid substance? It was possible, and Atzmon and his OHE soon proved the point. Indeed, it soon enough became clear that jazz had a new "trinity" of super giants - Bird, Trane, and Atzmon. But not only that, even on that self-titled debut album it was already clear that in pianist Frank Harrison and drummer Asaf Sirkis Atzmon had managed to surround himself with equally stellar band mates. And original bassist Oli Hayhurst was far more than the average bassist, too. When Atzmon's long-time friend and collaborator Yaron Stavi took over the bass position from Hayhurst in 2003, we soon saw the greatest jazz band since Miles Davis' legendary first quintet.
Close your eyes during one of Atzmon's blistering bop runs and you might well imagine that you're listening to the Bird himself, albeit a contemporary Bird, extended harmonies and all, if often in a modal context. Do the same during one of Atzmon's equally fiery, soaring hard bop runs and you could well think you're hearing Trane as he might have sounded had he lived. But in either case, there's always something more. That something is that Atzmon is no mere imitator but very much his own man, a great innovator himself, and with the stamp of his own personal genius on everything he does.
Not only that, but the Orient House Ensemble is not a band of mere sidemen, but rather, a co-operative organic whole of equals. The genius of pianist Frank Harrison in particular is quite simply peerless today. Yaron Stavi is the finest and certainly the most versatile and lyrical of bassists, and while Asaf Sirkis, unquestionably the foremost drummer today, has moved on last year, young Eddie Hick is already proving himself a worthy successor and will almost certainly rise to equally lofty heights as Sirkis in time. He certainly has the genius and the skill, if not yet the experience perhaps.
And now it's the tenth anniversary of Gilad Atzmon & The Orient House Ensemble, and the launch of their album celebrating this. A very special performance is always guaranteed with Atzmon and the OHE, so in many respects Friday night's launch gig at Ronnie Scott's might well be a foregone conclusion. But that would not be the whole story, nor the whole truth.
As the crowd streamed into the club for the Second House at half past ten, it soon became evident there would be few if any seats left. By the time the house band, the Ronnie Scott's All-Stars, started the warm-up, as best as I could count there might have been a dozen or so seats left.
When the time arrived for Gilad Atzmon & The OHE's single set, the reception they received was rapturous. From the first bar they played the crowd was simply in awe.
As ever, Atzmon also proved himself the witty, charismatic and charming raconteur and all-round entertainer as well as the masterful jazz titan that he is. Atzmon could charm any crowd and have them eating out of his hand like tame puppies.
The set took in a selection of tracks from the tenth anniversary album with mostly extended improvs.
The tracks from The Tide Has Changed included the gentle And So Have We, the ferocious The Tide Has Changed, the hauntingly beautiful Bolero At Sunrise, and the dramatic, sometimes impassioned London To Gaza, before a return to a theme first heard on the second OHE album, Nostalgico, as 20th Century, and subsequently on Muzik as Re-arranging The 20th Century. Here, it became Re-re-arranging The 20th Century, with an extended Salt Peanuts, the great Dizzy Gillespie/Kenny Clarke bebop classic based on Count Basie's Basie Boogie rounding off this new version. Not since Dizzy and Bird have I heard such a breathtaking, inspired rendition of this latter piece.
Next, we were treated to the night's sole outing for Atzmon's equally gorgeous clarinet with the exuberant All The Way To Montenegro, again from the anniversary album, followed by an arrangement of the album's opener, Dry Fear, likewise an exuberant piece.
All through the night's spectacular performance, Atzmon was, as always, generous to a fault in allowing equal or almost equal space for his band mates to shine.
Atzmon and Harrison more than showed why they are today's fiercest, fieriest and most innovative improvisors, unheard since the days of Bird and Trane. Their fire and passion are matched by their equally unparalleled sensitivity and inventiveness. Stavi's bass and Hick's traps provide the ever perfect complement. Hick does an admirably tremendous job of following in the giant footsteps left by Asaf Sirkis and deserves every respect. Lesser mortals, even more experienced ones, might have been overwhelmed and intimidated by the mere prospect. Atzmon introduced Hick only half-jokingly as "the world's greatest drummer" - he's certainly on his way!
Throughout the performance, each piece and each solo received rapturous applause from the highly appreciative crowd, to the point of being near ear-splitting. The inevitable encore concluded the set with what has become Atzmon's standard closer, a heart-felt alto rendition filled with optimism and hope of What A Wonderful World. You could almost hear dear ol' Louis as in a distant echo somewhere... The ovation for Atzmon and the OHE was long, loud and enthusiastic, and as heart-felt as the music had been all night.
Friday night's performance was, even by Atzmon & OHE standards, more than special and extraordinary. It completely took your breath away and was as much excitement and fun and beauty as can be had out of the sack and then some. Spec-ta-cu-lar!
Atzmon' brilliant genius combines the best of Bird and Trane yet is so much more than the mere sum of such a combination. The crowning glory is that the OHE are probably the finest jazz band of all time.
What makes Atzmon & The OHE even more special is that they're all firmly grounded and disarmingly modest with it.
Whatever else you do, if you love jazz, or good music period, you have to go and see Atzmon & The OHE live at least once in your life. They are already living legends.
If you were unfortunate enough to have missed this Friday's outstanding performance, it was being recorded for broadcast by BBC Radio 3. Moreover, Gilad Atzmon & The Orient House Ensemble are having an extensive tenth anniversary tour, like the album titled The Tide Has Changed, of the UK and Europe. For details check Gilad Atzmon's web site.
Atzmon and the OHE can next be seen in London in various roles as part of the Jazza Festival at the Scala in London on 12th and 13th October, and in a three-set marathon tenth anniversary special as part of the London Jazz Festival at The Artsdepot on 18th November. The latter includes special guests inc. Asaf Sirkis, and former extended OHE members Romano Viazzani and Guillermo Rozenthuler as well as Tali Atzmon.
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