Middle eastern themes meet jazz on a passionate, political album.
Neil Bennun 2003-03-11
The first bars of 'Dal'ouna', an ominous bowed double bass, an incantatory vocal in Arabic from the Palestinian singer Reem Kelani and soprano saxophone from Gilad Atzmon himself, usher you into Exile with a striking introduction.
This gives way to a song driven by a repetitive bass figure, jumpy Israeli riffs, syncopated accordion and subtle drums. Somewhere between jazz and the music of the Middle East, and exploiting the similarities between the music and the experiences of the Jewish and Palestinian peoples.
The song perfectly states Gilad Atzmon's aim: similarity should outweigh difference; difference should be celebrated.
Atzmon explicitly makes the point that modern Israel was founded on a notion of 'return' and asks: "How can modern Zionists ... be so blind when it comes to a very similar Palestinian desire?" To make his point, he's taken traditional Jewish songs, the anthem of the '67 War, a melody from the film Salach Shabati and Palestinian songs, 'Dal'ouna', 'Ramallah', 'Imhaaha', and reinterpreted them in a jazz context.
Middle Eastern basslines and and harmonies pass through jazz chord voicings and arrangements, a chorus will give way to a synchronised Middle Eastern riff; Hebrew lyrics about longing for homeland are sung in Arabic, an Eastern European ballad about a town burnt in a pogrom is re-christened 'Jenin'.
Much of the album's success has to be down to Gilad Atzmon's splendid command of the idioms of jazz and Middle Eastern music. His soprano and alto sax slips between the two with a stinging melancholy ('Jenin'), hopeful insistence ('Al-quds') and something like joy ('La Côte'), while Frank Harrison on piano and Yaron Stavi (bass) and Asaf Sirkis (drums and percussion) all play with a wonderful collective touch which is subtle, energetic and unconventional.
While some may find Exile's premise provocative, it's satisfying music that reaffirms the essentially constructive nature of collaboration.