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Gilad Atzmon & The Orient House Ensemble Refuge Review

Album. Released 2007.  

BBC Review

Gilad resists technical excesses on Refuge and lets the dynamics speak for themselves.

Kathryn Shackleton 2007

Eight years and five albums into their relationship, the Orient House Ensemble have survived the honeymoon period, introduced each other to their friends (on musiK), and had a bit on the side (with Artie Fishel). Now they’re keeping things fresh by experimenting with electronica.

The architect of Refuge, saxman Gilad Atzmon, starts by building “Autumn In Baghdad” on the foundations of the standard “Autumn In New York”. This Baghdad’s an introspective place where his full-bodied alto soars to an urgent wail and dies away to a whimper over Frank Harrison’s tender piano. It gets shouldered aside, though, by the rocky bombast of “Spring In New York”, with its electronic farmyard of moos and squawks. On both of these tracks, drummer Asaf Sirkis is a delight - covering all the percussive bases: from the most delicate thrumming on a cymbal to kit-busting pyrotechnics.

Despite his formidable sax technique, Gilad resists technical excesses on Refuge and lets the dynamics speak for themselves. “In The Small Hours” sees burning flurries of notes tempered by Yaron Stavi’s lush bowed bass and a beautifully understated keyboard solo from Frank. Arabic melodies sit comfortably with Western harmonies and seriousness explodes into hilarity as the Middle Eastern grooves of “My Refuge” burst into a Latin fiesta (with a cameo from Paul Jayasinha on trumpet and great dance beats from Asaf).

So to the electronica… What can it add to the four eloquent voices of the Orient House Ensemble? Where Artie Fishel And The Promised Band splattered fuzzy groans, wails and pseudo radio transmissions across everything, Refuge is more restrained. The spectre of Atzmon’s evil clone, Artie, still haunts “The Burning Bush” with its muffled static and drum ‘n’ crowd noise, but elsewhere electronic chatterings and caveman groans are more tightly woven into the mix, to add texture and unsettle. The effect is that the unadorned ballads become all the more poignant – listen to the aching simplicity of “Just Another Prayer For Peace”.

It’s not where you take things from that matters, but where you take them to, and the OHE is finding its voice in an increasingly subtle blend of East and West, that’s brutal and beautiful.

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