Nostalgico for Swing and All That
Gilad Atzmon & The Orient House Ensemble's Nostalgico was released in 2001 on the Enja/Tiptoe label. Contemporary jazz that is very clearly recognizable as jazz, predominantly in a swing vein, the music has a distinct World Jazz flavour. The latter comes from the Sephardic/Ladino (Judeo-Spanish) and other Middle Eastern influences and touches, so characteristic of Atzmon and his ensemble. A whole year and one half after its release, this album remains as refreshing as a cool breeze on a hot, sticky summer's day.
Led by Gilad Atzmon, an Israeli-born secular Jew living in self-imposed exile in London, an outstanding saxophonist and clarinetist with a superb, distinctive voice on both instruments and a flawless technique, The Orient House Ensemble consists of Asaf Sirkis, an Israeli-born phenomenal drummer/percussionist, and two young Cambridge musicians, Frank Harrison on piano (the very devil on the ivories!) and melodica and Oli Hayhurst on bass. The ensemble playing is probably one of the tightest on the contemporary jazz scene, and this strong empathy simply spells magic. Gilad Atzmon is a supreme improviser of flowing melodies, deeply steeped on the one hand in swing and bebop as well as post-bop, on the other in Ladino/Sephardi and other Middle Eastern melodies and rhythms. The ensemble provide rock-solid support for Atzmon, and ideas flow freely back and forth.
Nostalgia there is a-plenty on Nostalgico. Overall, there is a great sense of longing, even unfulfillment at times, and melodies often are somewhat fragmented, like the very memories they reflect. This album harkens and reaches back to the golden swing era and its giants, such as Bechet and Ellington in particular, successfully recreating their brilliance and elegance with an astonishing depth as well as ease. At the same time, Nostalgico also draws on and successfully fuses post-bop jazz with traditional Ladino and other Sephardi, as well as klezmer/Balkan and Turkish elements. The result is a completely compelling album, sheer magic that is often hauntingly beautiful, sometimes even slightly satirical or humorous, always great fun, music that is at once powerful and charming, and thoroughly enjoyable. Nostalgico achieves the seemingly impossible - it cannot fail to please the swing connoisseur, nor the aficionado of true "world jazz". Gilad Atzmon & The Orient House Ensemble's album is in the best traditions of both of these, and more besides. It is also, like their self-titled debut album, a completely consistent album, with not a single weak track in sight.
Four tracks are Atzmon originals, two classic Ellington compositions. The remaining three are a Bechet standard, Brown's Singing in the Rain, and a medley of Gershwin, Ellington, Weill, and Atzmon & Orient House. Gilad Atzmon's own Paradiso Nostalgico very much sets the mood, unraveling time itself, taking us back. Then & There, another haunting Atzmon tune, maintains and nurtures the feeling of nostalgia and is followed by a simply superb rendition of Singing in the Rain. Combining parts of It Ain't Necessarily So, Caravan, and Mack The Knife, given the distinct Orient House treatment, 20th Century follows with a further treat of skillful improvs. Two Ellington classics follow, I Got it Bad and That Ain't Good and In a Sentimental Mood - easily my own favourite interpretations bar the Duke's own. Elegant, laid-back, downright dreamy. The next track takes things to even dizzier heights of excellence. Gilad Atzmon's tunes are easily memorable, but Lust for Sale is easily the most memorable and catchy of them all. It's very difficult to get out of your head at all! Not that that's a problem - it's a hugely enjoyable, heavily Sephardic influenced tune with a fabulous swing that really gets your feet going. Balkan, klezmer and other Middle Eastern touches abound, and a wordless baritone reminds of both Chassidic nigunim and Sufi tunes. The soloing by Harrison and Atzmon is outstanding even among all their other outstanding soloing on this album. By now you could be forgiven for thinking that things just couldn't get any better anymore. But Gilad Atzmon & The Orient House Ensemble have different ideas. With Sidney Bechet's probably greatest classic, Petit Fleur, they take Nostalgico to yet another level! Subtle, delicate as the flower of the title, dreamy and haunting, this track's beauty and Atzmon's horn's elegance and gorgeous tone are both rare and rarefied. I would like to think even the old maestro himself would have approved of this version. Alas, all good things must come to an end though. The closer, The Devil Sings Again, is another wonderful Atzmon original, full of hints and touches of Sephardi and other Middle Eastern as well as klezmer and Balkan music, but now taking us forward, from swing towards post-bop, towards the present, reflecting glimpses of both past and present. A very fitting closing reverie.
Nostalgico is an album that ought not to be missed by any lover of great music, regardless of genre labels or, for that matter, genre preferences. Gilad Atzmon & The Orient House Ensemble again prove their solid musicianship and great depth and passion with this their second album, with great support also from special guest artists Brian Neil on guitar and Joe De Jesus on trombone. There really can be no excuse whatsoever to miss out on such gorgeous, passionate, even driven music with such great charm and haunting beauty; financial poverty excepted. So if you haven't got this already, and you love good music, or great music, go grab Gilad Atzmon & The Orient House Ensemble's Nostalgico!
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