Gig Review:
Gilad Atzmon & The Orient House Ensemble 10th Anniversary Celebration
London Jazz Festival, Artsdepot,
5 Nether St., London N12 on Thursday, 18th November, 2010

Gilad Atzmon & The Orient House Ensemble Live At
London Jazz Festival

5 Nether St., Tally Ho Corner, London N12 0GA
Thursday, 18th November, 2010, 7.30pm


Gilad Atzmon - soprano & alto sax, clarinet
Frank Harrison - piano
Yaron Stavi - double bass
Eddie Hick - drums

And Special Guests:

Asaf Sirkis - drums
Romano Viazzani - accordion
Guillermo Rozenthuler - vocals
Tali Atzmon - vocals
The Sigamos String Quartet,
   leader Ros Stephen

Date of Review: 2010/11/21

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Gilad Atzmon & The OHE (PR Photo)

Gilad Atzmon & The Orient House Ensemble Live At London Jazz Festival, Artsdepot,
5 Nether St., London N12 on Thursday, 18th November, 2010

Gilad Atzmon & The Orient House Ensemble's Tenth Anniversary Celebration always promised to be something even more special than their usual gigs, special as those are. A marathon three-set extravaganza, no less, also re-uniting the OHE with original drummer Asaf Sirkis, as well as with members of the former extended OHE, singer Guillermo Rozenthuler and accordionist Romano Viazzani, plus The Sigamos String Quartet under Ros Stephen and singer Tali Atzmon.

Extra-special and extraordinary this gig certainly was - almost a foregone conclusion really as Atzmon always delivers what he promises. And naturally, with a line-up as spectacular as this - the greatest jazzman of our time, Gilad Atzmon, the finest "great little jazz band" ever, the OHE, the greatest drummer of our time, Asaf Sirkis, one of the finest tangueros and latin singers of our time, Guillermo Rozenthuler, one of the leading accordionists, Romano Viazzani, and the superlative strings of Ros Stephen and her Sigamos Quartet and the excellent singer Tali Atzmon - one's expectations are equally extraordinarily high to begin with.

The Artsdepot's sizable Pentland Theatre was very well attended indeed. The crowd were rewarded with what turned out to be the most spectacular jazz performance of the year.

The first of the three sets covered early OHE material up to and including 2005's musik album, with the OHE re-united with traps genius Asaf Sirkis and former extended OHE members Romano Viazzani and Guillermo Rozenthuler, with Ros Stephen filling the violin position of Ovidiu Fratila.

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Of course, this was no mere re-hash of old material for nostalgia's sake. The arrangements were largely new - in particular of course, Re-Arranging The 20th Century which in its new incarnation has also been heard on Gilad Atzmon & The Orient House Ensemble's other gigs of their current tour - and in any event, you'd be more likely to witness a snowball fight in hell than to hear Atzmon and the OHE play the same piece in the same way twice.

Sirkis' unique style of drumming and atomic clock-precision timekeeping and timing contributed much to the sound and style of the original OHE. It was thus a double delight to see and hear him back in the OHE's traps seat for this set, and his solo near the end of the set was as exhilarating as one expects from Sirkis. Guillermo Rozenthuler and Romano Viazzani likewise reprised their parts with great panache and were a delight, as was Ros Stephen's seamless violin.

Throw in Yaron Stavi's rock-solid lyrical bass anchor, and the setting really couldn't have been more perfect for the breathtaking improvs of both Atzmon himself, variously on soprano and alto as well as clarinet, and piano genius Frank Harrison.

It was only something of a pity that Harrison had to make do with an upright - one would have expected at least a baby grand from as large a venue as the Artsdepot. No matter though, Harrison would still sound grand on a toy piano.

The set was as fresh as if it had been conceived yesterday, if perhaps, like a fine wine, somewhat matured in the intervening years. As ever, Atzmon and the OHE were playing right on the edge, never going for the safe option.

Material from the Gilad Atzmon With Strings project (the album In Loving Memory Of America) formed the core of the second set of the night, with a few selections also from the Robert Wyatt / Gilad Atzmon / Ros Stephen album For The Ghosts Within.

For this second set, the OHE's regular drummer, the prodigiously gifted Eddie Hick, took his seat at the traps, and the OHE were also joined by the excellent Sigamos String Quartet.

Following on from master drummer Asaf Sirkis' first set appearance cannot have been easy for Hick - indeed, it would have been hard on any other drummer - but he absolved himself excellently. The contrast of styles between these two drummers is of course huge, and hearing them in successive sets certainly served to emphasize this difference. (This difference becomes even more emphatic if you heard Sirkis in live performances of this material until 2009, or have the album, which was also still recorded with Sirkis.) Kudos to Eddie Hick for handling this "follow-on" so well.

The unparalleled beauty of the "With Strings" material was given full rein, with Atzmon and Harrison's edgy improvs and dialogues contrasting exhilaratingly with the serene strings of Stephen and her Sigamos Quartet. As indeed with the first set, one did not want this second one to end.

The selections from the Wyatt/Atzmon/Stephen collaboration For the Ghosts Within in this set were just as breathtaking. Atzmon's multi-talented singer wife, Tali Atzmon, delivered beautiful, dreamy, sensuous renditions of the Atzmon/Benge-penned title track of the album, The Ghosts Within - although its subject is specifically the plight of the Palestinian people, this could be a universal anthem for the displaced, dispossessed and oppressed anywhere - and the Stephen/Benge-penned Lullaby For Irena.

The Raksin/Mercer standard Laura was given a sensitive and not over-sentimental interpretation by the incredibly versatile Guillermo Rozenthuler. This may have come as something of a surprise to some, but Rosenthuler's repertoire, although generally concentrating on tango and other mainly Argentinean and Uruguayan forms, encompasses almost any kind of song you could think of - bossa to folk to modern popular classics to contemporary popular material and more.

The third set of this marathon extravaganza focused on the new material from Gilad Atzmon & The Orient House Ensemble's recent tenth anniversary album The Tide Has Changed, launched at Ronnie Scott's on 1st October.

On the opening title track, Atzmon and the OHE were joined by Tali Atzmon for the wordless vocals. Atzmon's compositions are always highly memorable, but The Tide Has Changed has to be one of his catchiest yet. The intensity here reached fever pitch. Atzmon has sometimes stated, half jokingly, that a live recording of his playing would be too intense for anybody to listen to at home. Sometimes, one can't help but wonder if he might not have a valid point. (Personally, I'd take the chance any day though.) During Atzmon's feverish, fiery bebop runs here one could have been forgiven for thinking it was Bird himself on that stage - but this is Bird with something extra.

Other selections included the most Coltrane-esque track on the album, London To Gaza, and the Balkans/Klezmer-inflected All The Way To Montenegro.

While each of the three sets was sizzling with intensity, in this third set Atzmon and his OHE seemed to up the ante more and more to an almost unbearable level of sheer musical, almost orgasmic, ecstasy that left one truly breathless. The combination of Atzmon and Harrison alone is lethal, the like of which we have not heard in decades, if then.

For the finale, Gilad Atzmon & The Orient House Ensemble were joined by Asaf Sirkis, playing side by side with Eddie Hick, as well as the wordless vocals of Tali Atzmon, Guillermo Rozenthuler and Romano Viazzani, and the Sigamos strings. A more exhilarating finale would have been hard to imagine.

Throughout the three sets, the charismatic Atzmon engaged his audience with his customary witty banter, providing some light relief from the incredible intensity of the performances.

Sadly, like all good things, this magical evening had to come to an end. After all, even musicians get exhausted, and after this high-octane, high energy tour de force nobody could have blamed them for wanting some well deserved rest.

An unforgettable night the like of which we are unlikely to see in a hurry. But, there's always the OHE's 20th Anniversary to look forward to!

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