Gilad Atzmon and the Orient House Ensemble, The Whistle Blower, Fanfare **** Recommended
Two years on from the release of Songs of the Metropolis the Orient House Ensemble looking a little different – long-time bassist Yaron Stavi and pianist Frank Harrison still on board. But there is a new drummer this time: hard bop hotshot Chris Higginbottom newly installed in place of Eddie Hick.
The issuing label is new too. It’s the first album on the saxophonist’s own Fanfare Records. Songs of the Metropolis had a theme of the “sound of the city”, with tracks named after places and was a ballads-driven album that tapped into a line going back to at least Sidney Bechet in terms of the saxophone. And ballads play a strong role on The Whistle Blower too settling in after the boisterous middle-eastern sounding dancey opener ‘Gaza Mon Amour.’ The gorgeous ‘Forever’ is a beauty. In a note in the sleeve Atzmon comments: “These compositions are about love, nostalgia, devotion, and simplicity.”
Recorded in a listener-friendly manner by Ben Lamdin at London studio Fish Factory over a couple of days of early-September last year Atzmon besides alto, soprano saxophones and clarinet – the harrowing soprano solo at the beginning of ‘To Be Free’ worth the purchase price of the album alone – also adds contributions on accordion, liltingly so on ‘The Song’, and guitar, while Harrison also switches between piano and keyboards, Stavi double bass and electric bass, all four adding vocal touches to the mock chorus of the title track. Atzmon’s wife Tali and Antonio Feola add some vocals as well, vocals particularly a presence on the title track kept to last. All the music is Atzmon’s, the penultimate song of the eight a slow romantic ballad dedicated, unusually for a jazz album, to Moana Pozzi, Italian porno actress and co-founder of the Love Party of Italy.
Stylistically, overall, The Whistle Blower is less about the Charlie Parker side of Atzmon’s considerable artistry, and leans more for instance on ‘Let us Pray’ towards Coltranian transcendentalism and balladry and pretty impressive that side is too. More tense in its best moments than Songs of the Metropolis but playful too, particularly on the amusing surf guitar-flavoured wordlessly vocalised title track (yes there is whistling, wolf whistling). Vintage Atzmon.
Released on 23 February The Orient House are touring extensively over the next few months. Selected Whistle Blower dates include the Verdict in Brighton on Friday (16 January); Hideaway, London (17); 606 London (31); Swansea Jazzland (4 February); Hen and Chicken, Bristol (1 March); RNCM, Manchester (5 March): Drill Hall, Lincoln (10 April); and Spin Jazz Club, Oxford (30 April). Full tour details here