Friday, 20 February 2015

"The Whistle Blower" by Gilad Atzmon and the Orient House Ensemble - "Mount the Air" by The Unthanks

You never quite know when you place that needle on the groove, or slide that CD in, exactly what, apart from something very much like Jazz, you are going to get with this recording. 2013's 'Songs of the Metropolis' was largely a laid back collection of works highlighting various capitals throughout the globe. This collection asks only that the listener brings no pre-set, preconceived notions of what the music they hear is to be like. It is a case of listen, appreciate, like, or not, but this is Gilad Atzmon and the Orient House Ensemble as they are - breaking boundaries, fusing styles and then breaking the fusing of styles. It is high velocity stuff with some mellow moments chucked in for good measure.
In many ways Gilad and the ensemble produce music, totally different in sound quality, to the Imagined Village. Where they, The Imagined Village, present modern England with its rich and heady brew of cultures as being one holistic entity, so Gilad takes us, by a Jazz route, through the bigger village of multi-culturalism, a world view perhaps that not so much encapsulates as explores the possibilities on offer. It really is an intoxicating listen.
Gilad's saxophone is as wondrous as any I have heard. Robert Wyatt even goes so far as to suggest that Gilad is one of the few musical genius's he has met. Quite some praise considering he has met the likes of Jimi Hendrix, John Lennon and others.
Mister Atzmon is a fascinating character. A Jew who seems to vehemently dislike Zionists and one that is very forthright on the Jewish identity. He is an outspoken challenger of both having written and spoken on the subject. He is a former Israeli soldier and, would you believe it Blockhead. Some of what he says about Jews I find hard to take and were it not for the likes of Robert Wyatt and Ian Dury, both of whom were as passionate in their dislikes of racism as my self, I think I might not, having read his thoughts, given him a second chance. However, there is something in what he says even if it strikes a little harsh at first. Having listened to him, via two lectures found on YouTube, where he exposes a long over looked side of life, of history, regarding the Jewish faith but Zionism specifically. In it he speaks of a form of eugenics as practised by the Jewish elite over hundreds if not thousands of years. It was an enlightening talk that highlighted how western society, America most recently, have adopted the same methods thereby defeating the possibility of equality. In this lecture Gilad Atzmon reveals a mind that seeks long hidden truths.
It is his inquiring mind that fuels not only his political thoughts but his musical ones as well. He doesn't appear to see the world as a shrinking place offering only the search for more personal wealth but a planet rich with culture and diversity. It is this he brings to his music. It explores the world we live in and in so doing reveals a unity that neither religion nor politics can, as much as it may try to, sunder. His music is both abrasive at times and others like healing balm. It is forever challenging and very much worth a listen even if Jazz is not your thing.

The band are tight yet fluid. It is hard to select, of the four members, which one stands out as they all are truly co-dependant on each other. There are some sections within certain pieces when Atzmon moves aside allowing the percussion of pianist Frank Harrison to fuse with that of drummer Chris Higginbottom's effortless yet propulsive rim shoots, cymbal rides which in turn meld as one with Yaron Stavi's muscular bass.

Here they move from standard Jazz to World Music to Parisian chic throwing in ideas along the way that are entirely their own. The playing is superb, even better when seen live as they flies into an orbit of their own making.  As I said, well worth a listen.

The other album, The Unthanks 'Mount the Air' is, I think, their best recording yet.

I first got into them when they were still Rachel Unthank and the Winterset. That debut album was pretty much a group showing their natural affiliations to North East England their home county. The songs contained on 'Cruel Sister' were of Northumbria. Rachel's voice, a natural vehicle to convey the roots of that most northern of English counties, was as one with the region - rugged and rather beautiful, unspoilt and with an ache that spoke of yearning as much as it was celebratory. It was in a nutshell a folk album but one that, having declared its inclinations, pointed an exploratory finger in other directions. The second album is where Ii came in. It was still, notwithstanding the Robert Wyatt cover, very much folk but already the signs of taking on board other musical qualities whilst remaining true to their heritage was clear to hear.

There has been significant movement in recent years as traditional folk has embraced a more progressive stance. I am thinking Eliza Carthy, Lau, The Imagined Village and even Bella Hardy. The Unthanks number among their ranks. And of course, coming from Northumbria which borders Scotland but also has a rich seam of influence as given from Ireland, the sound you hear is naturally inquisitive. Like the above Atzmon it sees beyond borders both physical and musical. 
Rachel and Becky's voices are sublime. Almost perfect for this type of music. They manage to convey that sense of the terrain, the landscape they were born in, the hills, lakes and fogs, the mists and the vales, with that of the working class shipyards that flourished and helped forge a kingdom.

This album, for me anyway, is the highlight of The Unthanks career thus far. It is here where time comes unfurled, unspun and laid out not in some linear format but like a tapestry through which you can view and see, hear in this case, the ancient with the now, the old with the new, in one glorious moment. Here remains their folk roots but spinning from that in liquid sound are touches of Jazz but also a symphonic swirl. Heather set in a chamber whereupon a delicious piano, as played by Adrian McNally, shimmers mirror like reflecting Rachel, Becky and Niopha's fragile yet beautiful voices. Strings manifest a melancholy emotion that engages with the melody, the vocal, the piano and the other instruments so that there are many parts that play. It is lush but still windswept, rich but still earthy. You just have to hear this as it is several parts played merging as one cohesive whole. This really is incredibly intelligent music yet, conversely, simple as bread and butter.
Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers.

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