Chatting with Gilad Atzmon and his band mates before the show, Atzmon, ever the joker, threatened that tonight they would be playing really bad, in fact their worst ever. I of course retaliated promising an equally bad review.
Well, if what followed last Friday night was Gilad Atzmon & The Orient House Ensemble at their worst, please play on! (You'll really have to try harder, guys!)
Opening to a packed Pizza Express with a blistering The Tide Has Changed, Atzmon & Co. unleashed an unrelentingly dynamic, vivacious two sets without let-up, without mercy. Nearing the end of their Tenth Anniversary Tour, Atzmon & The OHE might have been forgiven for slowing down a little, so to speak - not a bit of it! They kept going into higher and higher gear.
With predominantly material from their Tenth Anniversary Album, also titled The Tide Has Changed, and a couple of numbers from earlier albums, Gilad Atzmon & The OHE presented perhaps their finest performance yet. The high energy of Friday night's performance was palpable, sending electric shocks down one's spine and throughout the body.
One of the features that makes the OHE what it is is that they never play exactly the same tune twice, there's always something that is different; and you'll never ever hear the same solo twice. Pianist Frank Harrison seems to have an almost infinite variety of chords and chord
inversions at his instant disposal. Atzmon himself displays almost unparalleled melodic and harmonic invention, often utilising extremely complex and extended harmonies himself such as have but rarely been heard since Bird himself.
Whether on alto, soprano, or clarinet, Atzmon's ultra-smooth rich voice is a delight in itself. Sheerest silk. Harrison with his sensitive touch and style as well as inventiveness is as ever the master of the ivories of his generation.
Yaron Stavi with his lyrical, sensitive bass delights as always. Behind the traps, Eddie Hick has been growing exponentially since joining the OHE in 2009, with an exciting, unique style that keeps you on the edge of your seat and superb time keeping and timing that cannot be faulted. Indubitably Hick's prodigious talent has made him into the finest, most versatile drummer of his generation on the scene, with a huge palette that he uses with great sensitivity. Who but Hick could fit the OHE so well! He is so much an integral part of the OHE it would be impossible to imagine the OHE without him now.
All in all, Gilad Atzmon & The Orient House Ensemble are, as ever, 'a great little jazz band.' The British scene in particular has become incredibly well endowed with a quite disproportionately large fond of young or younger outstanding talent over the last decade or two. Last Friday night Atzmon & The OHE proved once again why they still lead the pack.
The sheer dynamism and excitement of an Atzmon & The OHE performance, of a band that plays right on the edge, has to be experienced, it cannot be adequately expressed or described. You had to be there to take in the vitality and vibrancy of last Friday night's 'Atzmon Experience.'
The first set, after kicking off with aforementioned blistering The Tide Has Changed, took in And So Have We, before launching into a breathtaking Bolero At Sunrise, Atzmon's take on Ravel's Bolero. This piece, perhaps more than any other, has evolved tremendously from the recorded version and over the course of the past eight months since the album launch at Ronnie Scott's, becoming ever more exciting with each performance. Hick's opening solo drum part and subsequent accompaniment has changed almost beyond recognition into something that well demonstrates his control with a very difficult part. Atzmon here was much more driving - and driven - than previously, whipping the piece into a near frenzy that supremely mimicked the original's continuous crescendo. (Please note the proper meaning of crescendo. It is not some kind of high point or climax, in which sense it is so often erroneously used, but a buildup, a measured increase in volume. It is in the latter, proper sense that the term is used here.)
This was offset by the supremely Coltrane-esque London To Gaza. Atzmon's increasingly agonised, increasingly animated runs prepared the ground well for the contrast of the next piece. Switching to his clarinet, Atzmon and his OHE layed into the exuberant All The Way To Montenegro with gusto, with an energy that was just infectious and utterly exhilarating.
After the first set closed with the vibrant little waltz, Dry Fear, the audience might have been forgiven for feeling quite exhausted!
And what of the musicians! But they showed no sign of the merest hint of tiredness. Yet, how do you follow a first set like that? Atzmon & The OHE soon enough provided the answer. With an equally, if not even more, energetic, vibrant second set!
Pieces here included The Burning Bush - no connection with the Bible, but rather a political reference - from their 2007 album Refuge, as well as the superlative Rearranging The 20th Century first heard on their 2004 album musik, here in an extended version that also included a superb vocalised rendition of the Dizzy Gillespie/Kenny Clarke classic Salt Peanuts.
Of course, the mandatory encore was provided by Atzmon's standard closer, What a Wonderful World. What a wonderful world this could be indeed if only it were filled with beauty such as Atzmon's music.
Gilad Atzmon & The Orient House Ensemble's performance at the Pizza last Friday night was outstanding even by their standards. It doesn't get any better than this. Except with another Atzmon & The OHE performance.
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