If music be the message, play on! In his sleeve notes to Refuge, Gilad Atzmon states that he mistakenly regarded music as a messenger, when it is actually the message. Indeed, well said. But the message can still be anything you want it to be. Whether the listener is, however, on the same frequency as it were, is quite a different matter and he may perceive quite a different message from that originally sent out by the artist. For sure, a song or tune, or an album, or even a whole series of albums, will never change the world, alas. But music still has the power to make the perceptive think, and just maybe to make them look at things differently than they did before. This process is not even a conscious one, certainly not on the part of the artist, and mostly not on the part of the listener, either. Music played an important part from the earliest days of human evolution, and like our most ancient sense, scent, its power is mostly an unconscious one, deeply rooted in the human psyche.
Indeed, Atzmon is spot on in stating that 'music comes into play when thoughts pass away, consciousness disintegrates and ideologies implode. Music is the true Being in Time. Just give it time and let it be.' Music is a state of pure being, and it can take us into a state of pure being if only we let it. Atzmon further states that over the years, the Orient House Ensemble 'have learned to sing together... it just grew on us... Without realising it, our music made it into a language with some very personal shapes and colours. Music has become our refuge.' It is precisely this unconscious process that 'glues' great musicians together in an ensemble or band and that allows the best in each to come out, it is this that has made the OHE (also performing as the Gilad Atzmon Quartet) one of, or perhaps the greatest and tightest bands ever on the jazz scene. The band is far greater than the sum of its members, each of whom is a world-class artist in his own right.
There is much to agree with in Atzmon's introductory sleeve notes to Refuge. Certainly, an awful lot of material for thought in a few short paragraphs. There is, however, one small point where I have to disagree with Atzmon. Music is capable of bringing people together, it can help in the healing of the wounds of the past, it can be a message of peace, and if rivals can learn to sing together, then they can learn to live together. No, that part you certainly got right, Mr. Atzmon! It's just that the way this can happen is a different one. It is subtle, on a small scale, evolutionary rather than revolutionary. And evolution can be a very slow process.
I make no apology for spending so much time on Atzmon's thought-provoking and thoughtful notes. Those few short paragraphs contain more wisdom as well as artistic insight than many a tome written on such subjects. They also greatly help in illuminating the album itself and its differences from its predecessors.
Gilad Atzmon And The Orient House Ensemble's Refuge was released in 2007 on their usual Enja label. It marks yet another turning point in Atzmon and the band's evolution, yet another re-invention. Atzmon's raw anger and anguish are still there, make no mistake, and so are his immense wit and humour. There's also frustration and despair, and great sadness, pathos even. But most strikingly, there is a new, more gentle, even more thoughtful contemplative side of Atzmon coming out here. At the same time, his more experimental side comes to the fore far more than on any previous OHE album in the form of the use of electronics and the use of a variety of alternative keyboards. However, rest assured that Gilad Atzmon's Coltranesque squalls, licks and deep spirituality and his Bird-like elegant bop runs are all still there. As is his lyricism. And the 'cultural hybrid' - that perfect blending of Middle Eastern / Arabic / Jewish / Balkan elements with jazz - lives on and attains new heights of perfection.
The core OHE of Gilad Atzmon, Frank Harrison, Yaron Stavi and Asaf Sirkis is supplemented by guest trumpeter Paul Jayasinha on The Burning Bush and My Refuge. The latter, aka Paul 'Shanti' Jayasinha, has been making big waves for almost the last decade or so (at one point he was also a member of Stewart Curtis' K-Groove) and has established himself as one of Britain's most gifted and most outstanding young trumpeters (and flugelhorn players). Hear why especially on My Refuge. Jayasinha blends in seamlessly with the OHE. Harrison of course works his magic, no matter what keyboards he's on, and Stavi's basses are as mellow and lyrical as ever. Sirkis' trap-work is sheer perfection as always. As for 'Atz' himself, what is there left to say about this legend that hasn't been said already? Feel privileged to hear such a bunch of talent in one band!
All the tracks on Gilad Atzmon And The Orient House Ensemble's Refuge are Atzmon originals, some with references to earlier works. You would expect to not find any weak tracks and to find utter consistency on an Atzmon album, and Refuge more than lives up to these standards. As one would also expect, it is quite impossible to pick any real favourites - they all are! However, one track that must have special mention is the title track. Moving from experimental to Middle Eastern Coltrane to Latin style, this track is probably Atzmon's most exuberantly joyous one to date in its latter half and contrasts superbly with the dominant mood of... a certain melancholy and perhaps, nostalgia? No, that's not quite it. There is a pronounced atmosphere of sensuality and a kind of languor about the album taken as a whole.
Gilad Atzmon And The Orient House Ensemble's Refuge is a different kind of Orient House Ensemble, to be sure, but the evocative, often hauntingly beautiful nature of the music, its emotiveness and spirituality, remain. Never make the mistake of expecting Atzmon to stand still. He is as driven as his music, it's in the nature of genius. By the time he releases an album, Atzmon has already started to move on and re-invent himself yet again. In all this, he is never afraid to admit he may have been wrong. And that takes true greatness.
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