Re-arranging The 20th Century - Musikally
Gilad Atzmon & The Orient House Ensemble have done it again. Not content to rest on their laurels and merely prove yet again that their ever soaring reputation as legendary is so justly deserved, they have come up with another phenomenal album, Musik - Re-arranging The 20th Century, that builds on their last release, Exile, and then goes far beyond but without leaving the listener behind. We really ought not to be surprised, after all, Gilad Atzmon's inventive, creative genius never stands still and he has to follow its compulsions. All the same, Musik is quite simply jaw-droppingly amazing and surprising.
The raw anger and underlying political motivation so prominent on Exile persist on Musik, as do the synthesis of Arabo-Jewish/Middle Eastern music and jazz, Atzmon's cultural hybrid, and there are frequent nods to musical themes from Exile. Prominently resurfacing on Musik also are the affinity with and influence of tango and Piazzolla that have been discernible in Atzmon's music before. More than that, they are frequently given a very free rein. The effect is breathtaking. Gilad Atzmon's wit and humour are given an equally free rein, and not just in lyrical references to and from his recently published second satirical novel, My One And Only Love (or, as in Joven, Hermosa Y Triste, his first, A Guide To The Perplexed).At the same time, Musik also often sees Atzmon at his most lyrical, both in terms of composition and playing. Atzmon's "beef" on Musik is the state of popular music and how it all went so horribly wrong in the twentieth century, and by extension of course the state of society at large, especially so post 9/11 and post Iraq. What Gilad Atzmon cannot express through his musik, and purely through his musik, no verbal intros or notes needed, probably isn't worth expressing in the first place. With huge doses of wit and humour, he takes a variety of twentieth century popular standards completely apart, turns them upside down and inside out and re-arranges them to suit his purpose. And then comes up smelling of roses! To paraphrase Atzmon, what Musik represents is a search for the means to re-arrange the twentieth century, not an end. Well put indeed. Atzmon's excellent liner notes are well worth a read for their unusual perceptiveness and clarity, and they are very brief and to the point.
The core Orient House Ensemble of Atzmon and Frank Harrison, piano, Yaron Stavi, bass, and Asaf Sirkis, drums, are extended for Musik with Dumitru Ovidiu Fratila on violin and trumpet violin,
Romano Viazzani on accordion, and the vocals of Argentinean born Tango singer Guillermo Rozenthuler. In addition, Atzmon secured a guest contribution from revered prog rock/jazz fusion icon Robert Wyatt, in many ways a kindred spirit; both Atzmon and Wyatt are also, of course, completely "unclassifiable". There are additional contributions from Matthaios Tsahourides on pontic lyra and Greek bouzouki and Atzmon's wife,
Tali Atzmon's vocals.
With a line-up like that, Gilad Atzmon is ready to tackle anything. And does. Musik kicks off with a slow, stately Tango setting of an adaptation of one of Atzmon's poems from A Guide To The Perplexed, Joven, Hermosa Y Triste, with Guillermo Rosenthuler's superb almost archetypal Tango singer voice you might say, at once dramatic, even heroic, and lyrical, and everything in between, every bit as seductive as Atzmon's sublime lyrical soprano. Add Frank Harrison's light touch on his supremely judged ivories, Yaron Stavi's ostinato-like bass and Asaf Sirkis' simple, subdued frame drum in the first part and superb trapwork in the latter part, and throw in Dumitru Ovidiu Fratila's soft romantic violin and Romano Viazzani's subtle accordion, and the whole thing simply takes your breath away with its almost painful beauty. Surfing is another setting of an Atzmon poem, this time from My One And Only Love, spoken beautifully by Rozenthuler, with the music veering from frantic to lyrical and to soaring sensuous improvs by Atzmon and back again. With Liberating The American People, Atzmon explores swing and bop influences to and beyond, and he is at his most Coltrane-esque here, before moving into "Middle Eastern Tango" mode. The latter surfaces again in Tutu Tango, where the influence of Astor Piazzolla is at its most pronounced, although this number explores more styles of Tango than you could conveniently shake a stick at and then some. Gilad Atzmon is just divine here. You have to hear this music, to experience this indescribable sensuality.
The title track, Musik, is calm, reflective, probing, searching, even meditative - Atz at once at his most spiritual and sensual, with soaring melodious improvs and wonderfully subtle ensemble playing. Special guest Robert Wyatt opens the Re-arranging The 20th Century medley with the first part of his own spoken lyrics, leading into Gershwin's It Ain't Necessarily So as you've never heard it before, questioning, probing, exploring, moving into a frantic Roll Out The Barrel that is the most humorous and simply comical fun piece on the whole album though not without its darker side at the same time; this quickly dissolves into Kurt Weill's Mack The Knife, with Wyatt's barely audible lyrics adding an almost sinister touch, followed by more Atzmon 20th Century mayhem and the second part of Robert Wyatt's spoken lyrics, and finally more It Ain't Necessarily So, questioning in a more assertive manner, almost as a statement of rebellion.
In some respects the crowning glory of this most outstanding album, Lili Marleen [sic], has never swung like this before, and I'm sure the old girl must be quite exhausted from it all! The tune is explored in numerous different styles and flavours, all equally brilliant and fitting together seamlessly. Atzmon's clarinet and Harrison's keys are to die for, so sensuous and hauntingly beautiful it hurts. Finally, the closer, And She Is Happy, is another sideways reference to Atzmon's novel My One And Only Love, and more than a nod to the swing era that is followed, after a minute's silence, by a witty and humorous return to more Middle Eastern and Balkan flavours.
Gilad Atzmon & The Orient House Ensemble's Musik is Atz at his most lyrical yet, as well as at his most sensual and spiritual. His technical perfection on any of his axes and his voice really don't need commenting about here anymore, I am sure it is by now taken for granted by everybody that in Atz we are witnessing the finest reed player of his generation and more, bar none. Much the same has to apply to Atzmon's equally stellar fellow Orient House Ensemble players, in particular Frank Harrison, Asaf Sirkis, and Yaron Stavi. It really doesn't get any better than this. Enjoy this fabulous music, it is the most evocative, sensuous, haunting, and even emotive that you'll hear in a long while, from a historical perspective. Gilad Atzmon proves yet again, as if proof were needed, why he is one of the true giants in the history of jazz. Gobsmacking f***ing genius!
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