Profile - Gilad Atzmon & The Orient House Ensemble
The charismatic Gilad Atzmon
All photos of Gilad Atzmon & The Orient House Ensemble this page by Richard A. Sharma.
Copyright © 2004 Richard A. Sharma. All rights reserved.
|Artist:||Gilad Atzmon & The Orient House Ensemble|
|Group Members:||Gilad Atzmon (founder/bandleader, clarinet,
saxophones, bass clarinet, flute), Frank Harrison (piano, melodica, keyboards),
Yaron Stavi (double bass, electric bass), Eddie Hick (drums)
Former members: Oli Hayhurst, bass (till 2002); Asaf Sirkis, drums (till 2009)
|Sub-Genre/s:||Contemporary, Post-Bop, Bebop, Hard Bop, World Jazz, Swing|
|Date Info First Pub'd:||2003/05/18 (major update 2008/06, also 2009/11; major revision 2010/10)|
|Watch Gilad Atzmon & The Orient House Ensemble videos|
Gilad Atzmon & The Orient House Ensemble - L-R: Frank Harrison, piano, Yaron Stavi, bass, Gilad Atzmon, soprano sax, Asaf Sirkis, drums
Gilad Atzmon on clarinet at his expressive finest
Volcanic pianist Frank Harrison
Israeli-born British jazz titan Gilad Atzmon, based in London, after forming The Orient House Ensemble in 2000 quickly made a phenomenal impact on the British jazz scene and well beyond. A feisty, even ferocious, and almost improbably gifted improviser, Atzmon has become a true jazz colossus of a stature not heard in over a generation since the days of John Coltrane and, before that, Charlie Parker. An incredibly versatile multi-reedist, Atzmon is further gifted with an outstanding and simply gorgeous voice on both clarinet and saxophones, influenced primarily by Bird (Charlie Parker), Cannonball Adderley and Trane (John Coltrane), lyrical yet passionate, even fiery, reminiscent of both Paul Desmond's cool, understated voice and Gato Barbieri's ( at the height of his powers) highly strung passionate one. There is an incredible, even improbable, emotional, even spiritual, power in his voice, which seemed to have attained a rare and rarefied state of perfection with his 2003 award-winning album, Exile. But Atzmon's voice still keeps on developing and growing and has become simply mindblowing on 2009's In Loving Memory of America. Somewhere, the spirit of Charlie Parker must be smiling.
Gilad Atzmon has always striven to reclaim the original spirit of jazz, the spirit of which it was indeed born; that of a cultural and political force born out of oppression and a reaction to that oppression. This also sits well with and indeed reflects Atzmon's personal political convictions, which are one of the driving forces behind his music. When he met again with and started working with Israeli-born drummer Asaf Sirkis, Gilad Atzmon's interest in the music of the Middle East, North Africa and Eastern Europe was reawakened and he formed the Orient House Ensemble with Sirkis, pianist Frank Harrison and bassist Oli Hayhurst in 2000. (The latter's role has since been taken over by Yaron Stavi in 2002, while owing to his multitude of other commitments Sirkis left the OHE during 2009, his traps seat having been taken over by Eddie Hick.)
Thus was born the most seminal, influential and undoubtedly most popular jazz band to have ever emerged on the British jazz scene and that rapidly became the greatest jazz band since Miles Davis' legendary first quintet and probably of all time.
Gilad Atzmon & The Orient House Ensemble's music is solidly rooted in bop and post-bop jazz, where Atzmon is particularly inspired by Charlie Parker, John Coltrane and Miles Davis, while simultaneously often showing strong swing leanings. The bop heritage of Charlie Parker is undeniable, particularly in Atzmon's fierce and fiery bop improvs, and his soaring hard bop improvs remind of John Coltrane; while the influence of Astor Piazzolla often manifests itself in Atzmon's outstanding compositions. This jazz base is often fused with Arabic, Turkish, Sephardi Jewish, Balkan, North African, and klezmer elements and influences, the result being a smooth and organic fusion in the very best traditions of world jazz or world fusion jazz, very much in the spirit of the great pioneers of this genre (which then was still to be named) such as Sudanese-born bassist/oud-player Ahmed Abdul-Malik and multi-instrumentalist Yusef Lateef. Underscored by a passion 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, and driven by deep political convictions, the music of Gilad Atzmon and The Orient House Ensemble is a perfect cultural hybrid and is at once fresh and refreshing, witty, humorous and satirical as well as compelling, beautiful, and often mysterious and haunting. It is also impossible to tie down to any particular genre, and that's only as things should be. Atzmon's own melodies in particular tend to be very catchy and often hard to get out of one's head and are full of great charm and wit.
L-R: Yaron Stavi, Gilad Atzmon, Asaf Sirkis
The Orient House Ensemble is without doubt the tightest band on the contemporary jazz scene, with an empathy among the players that is more akin to telepathy than anything else. Their technical excellence and musicianship are of the very highest calibre, needless to point out. Critical acclaim in the UK national press as well as in the specialist UK and international music press has been and indeed continues to be bountiful. Gigs, concerts and tours continue to be hugely popular and successful, and their recordings have been featured on national and international radio, and Gilad Atzmon & The Orient House Ensemble have also been featured on music TV.
Their self-titled debut album, Gilad Atzmon & The Orient House Ensemble, was released in 2000. In 2001, this was followed by Nostalgico. Both albums were strong, surprisingly mature efforts and both critically as well as popularly successful. To this day, both albums stand up very well and remain in print.
For their third album, the BBC Jazz Awards Best Album-winning Exile, released in February 2003 on the Enja/Tiptoe label, and its associated tour, Gilad Atzmon expanded the Orient House Ensemble with outstanding Palestinian singer Reem Kelani, renowned Tunisian singer and oud player Dhafer Youssef, violinist Marcel Mamaliga and accordion maestro Romano Viazzani, with bassist Yaron Stavi, a long time friend and collaborator of Atzmon's, having taken over the bass post from Oli Hayhurst. Emphasizing the similarities, and indeed commonalities, between Jewish and Arabic cultures and peoples, who - for the most part - lived in perfect harmony for centuries and whose peaceful co-existence and collaboration resulted in such glorious achievements as Andalusian music and the outstanding compositions by Sephardi composers at the Ottoman court, had been moved even further to the forefront of Atzmon's compelling music with this third OHE album. A truly monumental album that is destined to go down in jazz history, Exile was in more ways than one arguably the most exciting, exhilarating jazz recording in decades when it appeared. It was a milestone that marked a full-blown renaissance of the original spirit of jazz, pretty much unheard since the days of John Coltrane. It also firmly established Jewish music in the mainstream, through its fusion of Jewish, Arabic/Palestinian music and jazz. Above all, it is outstandingly compelling music with a fire and passion rarely if ever heard in recent decades.
For 2004's Musik, Gilad Atzmon & The Orient House Ensemble continued in an extended form, with Romano Viazzani (accordion), Dumitru Ovidiu Fratila (violin and trumpet violin) and Guillermo Rozenthuler (vocals). Eventually, however, the OHE reverted to its core quartet format of Gilad Atzmon, Frank Harrison, Yaron Stavi and Asaf Sirkis, the latter followed by Eddie Hick in 2009.
Each of these core members is a stellar performer in his own right as well as, in the case of Harrison, an independent leader, and each is a more than formidable improviser and soloist. Pianist/keyboardist Frank Harrison, only twenty-one when he joined the OHE as a founder-member and originally hailing from the spired city of Oxford, is the most stellar pianist to have emerged on the British scene and, like Atzmon, is a fiery, ferocious improviser yet also capable of the greatest subtlety and sensitivity. Harrison has long shown a remarkable maturity well beyond his still young years. He reminds of Art Tatum at the height of his career, as well as of other greats such as Thelonious Monk, Oscar Peterson, Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea yet has developed a voice and style all his own that are absolutely gorgeous. Harrison also leads his own trio with whom he has recorded two outstanding albums so far. He has also appeared on a number of recordings supporting other artists, and among others has also performed with John Etheridge, Julian Siegel and Louis Stewart. Julian Joseph acknowledged that 'His talent shines among his peers,' but that seems a fairly empty statement when this genius is peerless today.
Bassist Yaron Stavi, likewise still young, like Harrison also exhibits an uncommon maturity and is one of the very finest bass players around as well as the most lyrical and versatile one, and certainly peerless among his generation. Providing a rock solid anchor, often his classical training and experience shine through. Again, his style and voice are distinctly his own, with influences discernable that go well beyond jazz and classical. In addition to the OHE, Stavi is also a member of, among others, the Asaf Sirkis Trio, Koby Israelite Band, and Jarek Smietana Trio. He has furthermore performed and recorded with numerous other leading artists in the jazz, classical, rock and world music spheres, including such luminaries as John Etheridge, Julian Siegel, Robert Wyatt, David Gilmour and Nigel Kennedy, as well as phenomenal tango ensemble Tango Siempre.
Currently the "new kid on the block", drummer Eddie Hick is already proving himself a worthy successor to Asaf Sirkis, the foremost and most in-demand drummer today. A Yorkshireman born and bred, Hick moved to London and joined the OHE in 2009 after graduating from Leeds College of Music. Atzmon had originally "discovered" Hick when the latter, in his second year at college, attended a workshop led by Atzmon and Stephen Keogh. Hick has a varied musical background, with two minors in Indian Classical music and Cuban music, as well as having followed courses in West African music. He is also already building up a respectable track record for someone so young and in addition to the OHE plays with a number of other bands and has also performed with Dave Liebman, Omar Puente, Lucky Ranku, Edward Simon, Roberto Pla, Gary Crosby, Mark Donlon, Abram Wilson, Stephen Keogh, Nigel Kennedy, Robert Mitchell, Oren Marshall and Julian Siegel, as well as recorded for pop artist Skint & Demoralised. Eddie Hick is a tremendously gifted drummer who fits well into the OHE, despite his still young years, or maybe because of them, and currently is probably the only drummer one could see taking over Asaf Sirkis' traps seat in the OHE. What Hick may lack in experience, he makes up for in versatility and sheer talent.
It is precisely this independence and extraordinarily high calibre of its individual members that is one of Gilad Atzmon & The Orient House Ensemble's great strengths. Another is its already remarked upon near-telepathy, and the sheer enjoyment they share in playing together.
But the OHE's greatest strength of all has to be a leader in Gilad Atzmon who is justly considered the greatest reed player of his generation, as well as the most awesome improviser, a worthy successor to Bird (Charlie Parker) and Trane (John Coltrane) who is otherwise without peers, and who is also one of the greatest composers in his "genre", with an outstanding gift of lyricism in both his compositions and improvs. Gilad Atzmon & The Orient House Ensemble deservedly keep attracting the kind of reviews that would be the envy of anybody, and their status as legendary is indisputable. It is fortunate indeed that Atzmon and his fellow band members are mature enough to take this kind of praise in their stride and have no difficulty in living up to it again and again and again and indeed surpassing it. Many a time, excessive praise has been heaped upon a young performer only to make it near impossible for him to live up to this - the indubitably gifted Courtney Pine springs to mind, with simply impossible pressures put upon him at a young age by a press that had fallen in love with him at a time when British jazz was very much in the doldrums. With Gilad Atzmon & The Orient House Ensemble, as their reputation grows, so do they. With each passing year, they keep surprising by doing the seemingly impossible and getting better still! They are indeed super giants and the first great jazz legend of the 21st century. Miss them in performance and you'll live (if you're lucky enough/young enough) to regret it, just as many of my generation regret never having been able to catch Bird or Trane live. Paraphrasing Paul McCartney's comment about The Beatles, Gilad Atzmon & The Orient House Ensemble are "a great little jazz band." It is fervently to be hoped that they'll stay together for a very long time yet indeed. Here's to the next decade (or two... or three... or...) of the OHE!
Regardless of which "side" of the "genre divide" one approaches Gilad Atzmon & The Orient House Ensemble from, whether jazz, world jazz or whatever, there's a great deal of delight and beauty, even fun, and lots of exhilarating excitement to be discovered. Ultimately, this is great music, and a great band, so just forget about the "genre" baggage and let Gilad Atzmon & The Orient House Ensemble's music into your ears and heart.
In Loving Memory Of America
Gilad Atzmon & The Orient House Ensemble
Artie Fishel And The Promised Band
2000 Gilad Atzmon & The Orient House Ensemble (Enja/Tiptoe - TIP8888392)
2005 Sue Kibbey - Sue Kibbey sings Jimmy Van Heusen (With Atzmon 4tet) (KIBBE002)
Gilad Atzmon & The Orient House Ensemble's recordings can be purchased:
From most general CD stores and online sources such as Amazon etc.
From Jewish Music Distribution JMD UK
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