Profile - Gilad Atzmon
Charisma and passion - Gilad Atzmon on his main alto
All photos of Gilad Atzmon this page by Richard A. Sharma.
Copyright © 2005 Richard A. Sharma. All rights reserved.
2) World | Jewish, Middle Eastern
3) Popular | Rock
|Sub-Genre/s:||1) Post-Bop, World Jazz, Swing
2) Contemporary, Other
|Instrument/s:||alto, soprano, tenor, baritone saxes, clarinet, bass clarinet (Bb), flute, sol, zurna|
|Date Info First Pub'd:||2005/03/21 (major update 2008/07, also 2009/11; major revision 2010/10)|
|Watch Gilad Atzmon videos|
The incomparable Gilad Atzmon
Gilad Atzmon on clarinet
'Atz jazz' - The Legend that is Gilad Atzmon
The greatest phenomenon to ever have hit the British jazz scene and one of the world's true greats, Gilad Atzmon was born in Tel Aviv, Israel, on 9th June, 1963. He studied composition and jazz at the Rubin Academy of Music in Jerusalem. Atzmon's busy musical career saw him heavily involved in the Israeli music scene and he worked extensively as a producer and arranger for a variety of Israeli dance and rock projects until 1994, and performed in Europe and the USA playing "ethnic Jewish soul music" as well as recording extensively in Israel, among many others with/for Ofra Haza and Yehuda Poliker. Furthermore, Atzmon toured with Memphis Slim and supported many international jazz names like Jack DeJohnette, Michel Petrucciani, Richie Byrach and numerous others. At some point, he also studied philosophy in Germany.
Following his move to London in 1994, Atzmon also studied at the University of Essex while also becoming active on the British jazz scene. In 1996-98 he was awarded the HMV Top Dog Award at the Birmingham International Jazz Festival. During this time, Gilad Atzmon also wrote dance material with DJ Face, toured Japan with Simon Fisher Turner, toured with Jazz Africa (Gail Thompson), and with Kenwood Dennard in the Middle East, and also recorded with Simon Fisher Turner. Meeting Ian Dury resulted in Gilad Atzmon joining veteran post-punk rock band Ian Dury & The Blockheads in August 1998, playing on Ten More Turnips From The Tip, the last album Dury recorded, released posthumously in 2002. He stayed with the band after Dury's death from cancer in 2000, and continues to be a Blockhead to the present. With The Blockheads, Atzmon has performed and recorded with Paul McCartney, Sinéad O'Connor, Robbie Williams, and others. Also in the period of 1998-9, his credits include performing and recording with Mike Scott (Water Boys), Little Mothers (The Worry) and Simon Fisher Turner. Atzmon also released a trio album, Take It Or Leave It (Face Jazz) and a dance EP Juizz Music (Fruit Beard) during 1999.
An extraordinarily eventful year, 1999 also saw Atzmon meeting up again with an old friend from Israel, drummer Asaf Sirkis. A working relationship ensued that rekindled his interest in the music of the Middle East, North Africa and Eastern Europe, and Gilad Atzmon now finally had the confidence to do what he had long been irresistibly drawn to - to integrate his jazz with his (multi-) cultural roots and their music and to move more and more towards a cultural hybrid, inspired by and ultimately driven by his political convictions. Thus, 2000 witnessed the birth of Gilad Atzmon & The Orient House Ensemble, featuring in addition to Atzmon himself on reeds and Asaf Sirkis on drums and bendir, two young English musicians, Frank Harrison on piano and Oli Hayhurst (replaced in 2002 by Yaron Stavi) on double bass. The latter two showed a remarkable affinity for the music of Atzmon's cultural roots and with his aims and vision, and thus the band were well on their way to fulfilling Atzmon's vision. Gilad Atzmon & The Orient House Ensemble established themselves as a premier jazz act on the UK scene with exceptional rapidity, and their eponymous debut album came along on the enterprising Enja label late in 2000. The rest, as the saying goes, is history. Sadly, due to a multitude of other commitments, Sirkis left the OHE during 2009. Sirkis' traps seat has been taken up by Eddie Hick.
Gilad Atzmon the man is a gentle giant, warm, charismatic, even somewhat shy, highly likeable and charming, exceptionally witty and an intellectual heavyweight, and seemingly plagued by anxieties, both artistic and political - the two are virtually inseparable for him. Gilad Atzmon the musician is fearsome. A multi-woodwind player playing soprano, alto, tenor and baritone saxes, clarinet, flutes, zurna and sol, and latterly also (Bb) bass clarinet, he is equally at home on any of his axes but his main weapons of choice in the context of the OHE are alto and soprano sax, followed by clarinet. Justly regarded as the greatest reed virtuoso, and particularly saxophonist of his generation, Atzmon is gifted with an outstanding voice on saxes as well as clarinet that is almost unbelievably gorgeous and that has been painstakingly honed to a rare and rarefied state of perfection. His main influence here is Cannonball Adderley, although Atzmon's voice as often recalls the lyricism of Charlie Parker, Paul Desmond's cool and understated voice, the warmth and relaxedness of Grover Washington Jr.'s voice, and the passion and intensity of John Coltrane's and Gato Barbieri's (when the latter was at the height of his powers) highly strung and emotional, if not emotive, voice. But Atzmon's voice is, all the same, all his inimitable own, seductively lyrical yet passionate, then angry, furious, fiery even, now wailing in an agony of weltschmerz, then soaring ecstatically, now regal, majestic and lofty, then floating, gliding along languidly as if floating on a merest wisp, all with an improbably emotional, even spiritual, power. He also occasionally plays both soprano and alto sax at once, reminding of Roland Kirk in this respect. Gilad Atzmon's mastery of the clarinet is usually overshadowed by most reviewers' focus on his saxes, and I feel bound to point out that Atzmon's clarinet is the nearest thing to the technical perfection of Artie Shaw that it has been my pleasure to hear.
The phenomenon that is Gilad Atzmon is equally feted as an awesome and feisty, even ferocious improviser, the like of which has not been heard since Charlie Parker and John Coltrane, to whom he is surely a worthy successor. He has been labeled the "Coltrane for the noughties", but this is not doing Atzmon proper justice. Atzmon is Atzmon, not just a Trane clone, however brilliant. And who are we to restrict his genius to the first decade of the new century? Atzmon is to the early 21st century what Bird and Trane were to the mid and late-mid 20th century. So, perhaps Atzmon, or Atz, for the 21st century would be more appropriate.
Gilad Atzmon's unparalleled improvisational inventiveness and prowess, the sheer brilliance and genius of his musicianship, leave him peerless in his generation and his time. His improvs are equally breathtaking whether they be bebop or hard bop based or veering into swing or free jazz. In addition to Cannonball Adderley, Atzmon's listed influences include John Coltrane and Miles Davis, although on the one hand, Charlie Parker surely needs to be added to this and on the other, swing seems to have been one of his earliest influences also. Atzmon's lyrical gift is such that he can turn even the hardest bop improvs into a torrent of lyrical invention, yet full of wit. Generally, his improvs are like streams of consciousness and tend to veer from blistering bop improvs on steroids to lyrical, flowing, rhapsodic hard bop ones, to fierce, emotive Coltrane-esque rants and squalls, and back again, as music and mood demand.
In describing Atzmon's musical genius, it is impossible to find adequate metaphors and superlatives to do him full justice. He is unstoppably innovative, dangerous, always taking chances and making them pay off. Fierce and even fearsome, always awesome, Gilad Atzmon is simply the most dazzling and exciting musician since Eric Dolphy and John Coltrane, and like the latter utterly driven by his convictions. Indeed, Atzmon has succeeded in reclaiming the original spirit of jazz out of which it was born in the first place, the spirit of a cultural and political force born out of oppression and reaction to that oppression, arising out of Atzmon's own deep political convictions rooted in a fierce, even extreme, anti-Zionism and a sincere quest for justice for the Palestinian people as well as the Jewish people. (Atzmon's brand of anti-Zionism is often misinterpreted as anti-semitism, largely by his detractors picking on parts of his statements taken completely out of proper context and resulting in an over-charged emotive reaction instead of a rational argument. Agree or disagree with, sympathise with or object to Atzmon's politics, but, however difficult perhaps from an emotional point, rational intellectual debate is the only way to properly respond to them.)
This driving force has combined with Gilad Atzmon's quest of achieving a musical cultural hybrid, a synthesis of East and West on the one hand, of Jewish and Arabic on the other, with the passionate aim to bring Jewish and Arabic peoples closer, remove unnecessary and artificial barriers between them and bring about greater understanding between them through exploring their often common musical heritage and fusing divergent elements of both cultures. This synthesis too has been attained successfully with his Orient House Ensemble. Indeed, this cultural hybrid serves as a metaphor for Atzmon's political vision and aims of peaceful co-existence, collaboration, tolerance, and justice. However, as with all and any truly great music, agreement with or even understanding of its underlying politico-philosophical driving force is not necessary to enjoy or appreciate the art, for that, all that is necessary is a true appreciation of great music and the prerequisite of an open mind.
Gilad Atzmon, with OHE bassist Yaron Stavi
That Gilad Atzmon's music is great music is, surely, indisputable. Always witty, often charming and even hauntingly beautiful, bursting at the seams with energy, filled with life, and with all life's pains as well as joys, at once beguiling and subversive, it is by turns lyrical and fiery, often full of anger, just indignation and frustration, yet it also finds room for tenderness, affection, even love. The intensity of it all defies description and can be even utterly overwhelming. Atzmon's music is big music, and perhaps above all deeply spiritual. It is music that grabs your heart as well as your balls, that sends shivers all over you and makes your spine tingle. It is also music that comes not merely out of Atzmon's supremely mastered axes but rather, straight out of his very heart and soul.
His performances are always mesmerising, completely and utterly devastating. As a raconteur, Atzmon is as witty, charming and charismatic as his music. Of course, Atzmon is also fortunate in having the kind of side in the Orient House Ensemble that would be the envy of any jazz artist. Not mere side men, the rest of the OHE are all star performers in their own right, and the band is as tight and empathic as you're ever likely to find. Indeed, Gilad Atzmon & TheOrient House Ensemble are the greatest jazz band since Miles Davis' legendary first quintet and likely of all time. Hugely popular, Gilad Atzmon & The OHE have toured worldwide and maintain an almost impossibly busy gig schedule.
Gilad Atzmon's compositions have also found the acclaim they so richly deserve. With a tendency towards the lyrical, they also often display influences of Piazzolla, and they are always most memorable, indeed often impossible to get out of one's head once heard.
Never content to rest on his laurels and always enjoying new challenges, Gilad Atzmon is also a published author of so far two outstanding novels, 2002's A Guide To The Perplexed and 2005's My One And Only Love. Both have seen critical acclaim and have been translated into 24 languages, with A Guide To The Perplexed, in its original Hebrew version, also having been nominated for Israel's Geffen Award for Science Fiction in 2003. Atzmon's devastating wit is given fullest rein here. His prolific political writings have also been widely published.
Furthermore, Atzmon also involves himself in numerous music education activities, including teaching workshops in schools, colleges, theatres as well as to community groups, often in conjunction with his OHE.
In addition to his regular Gilad Atzmon & The Orient House Ensemble, Atzmon also works (commonly with the same line-up) as the Gilad Atzmon Quartet or Gilad Atzmon Real Jazz Quartet, as well as with or for numerous other projects. Of course, there is his continuing work also with The Blockheads, and in 2007 he extended his work as a producer, collaborating with singer-songwriter Sarah Gillespie and producing her debut album, released in 2009. Numerous other artists are also benefiting from Atzmon's renewed activity as a producer.
Additionally, Atzmon also is a regular (along with Asaf Sirkis) of the Meier Group with Swiss-born guitar wizard Nicolas Meier, with whom he has recorded three albums so far. His exceptional versatility also frequently sees Atzmon collaborate with other artists from all colours of the musical spectrum, and he has e.g. also recorded with Tango Siempre, one of the UK's leading tango groups, led by violinist Ros Stephen.
Bird's pet project, Charlie Parker With Strings, which became one of the best-selling albums in the history of jazz in the 1950s, became one of Atzmon's most recent pet projects as Gilad Atzmon With Strings. It features the Gilad Atzmon Quartet with a conventional string quartet - the Sigamos Quartet - and includes adaptations of Bird's 1950s original as well as specially composed Atzmon originals. This has been touring the UK widely since 2008 and still continues at present. In early 2009, this also surfaced as Atzmon's sensational album, In Loving Memory of America, as perfect an album as one could hope to find.
Gilad Atzmon and Gilad Atzmon & The Orient House Ensemble richly deserve the kind of positive and superlative press that they keep attracting. He and they have no problems in not only continuously living up to their press and reputation, but indeed in achieving the seemingly impossible in surpassing themselves. Atzmon is indeed the first jazz super giant, the first jazz legend of the21st century. It is no exaggeration to state that Atzmon combines the best of Bird and Trane but is much more than the sum of this as his own individual genius shines through everything he does.
Jazz has a new trinity of super giants. Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Gilad Atzmon.
The Tide Has Changed
Wyatt/Atzmon/Stephen - For The Ghosts Within
In Loving Memory of America
Gilad Atzmon & The Orient House Ensemble
Artie Fishel And The Promised Band
Sue Kibbey Sings Jimmy Van Heusen (w/Gilad Atzmon Quartet)
Ronnie Carroll - Back On Song (w/OHE as Lebab)
Spiel Acid Jazz Band
Spiel - Both Sides
Take it or Leave It
Gilad Atzmon's recordings can be purchased:
From most general CD stores and online sources such as Amazon etc.
From Jewish Music Distribution JMD UK
All rights reserved.