The Orient House Ensemble, named with Gilad Atzmon’s usual challenging flair, after the Palestinian people’s headquarters in Jerusalem, is ten years old. The only other original member of the band is pianist Frank Harrison, but the band’s music – a winningly compulsive mix of the Middle Eastern and jazz influences – has remained consistent from the start.
Consistent, but constantly developing and becoming more finely interwoven.
Listen to the 11-minute title track of this disc and those elements are there, the Middle Eastern ones especially in Atzmon’s saxophone articulation with its microtonal phrasing, but its just so cohesive now. And is there a saxophonist working in the UK today, or a band in fact, that is able quite to work up this kind of intensity?
But there is also such acute attention to the gorgeousness of the sounds. As Atzmon adds that growl, and launches into those lightning runs, followed by high, held screams at the top of his instrument, Harrison, bassist Yaron Stavi and drummer Eddie Hick churning beneath, so are added rich, held chords of Tali Atzmon’s voice. And then we are back down to a funky bass and drums for Harrison to start building up the tension all over again.
There are heaps more joyous moments like this on this album, including a great version of Ravel’s Bolero, or Bolero At Sunrise as he calls it, Atzmon bringing a fresh lyricism to this most familiar of melodies against a lovely, sinuous groove.
And So Have We shows Atzmon’s rich tone on soprano, while London To Gaza features the multi-layered pleasures on its melodic statement of Atzmon’s saxophone line shadowed by his own accordion with Stavi’s bowed bass underneath, before it morphs into a measured and Coltraneish slow-burner, Atzmon again stressing that Middle Eastern saxophone tone and articulation. It’s a saxophonic tour de force.
And of course, humour is never far away from the seriousness – from the MC-led opening to the oompah madness of We Laugh.
The band, surely one of the hardest working in jazz, is currently nearing the end of a three month tour and comes to the The Drum in Birmingham for a Live Box Special on Saturday evening. It starts at 7.30pm, and you can find out more at www.the-drum.org.uk