Readers of Socialist Review may know jazz musician Gilad Atzmon due to his Coltrane tour with Martin Smith and the Cultures of Resistance gig at this year's Marxism. An Israeli living in self imposed exile in London, he is an outspoken anti-Zionist and opponent of the war in Iraq.
His new CD, Refuge, is his fifth with The Orient House Ensemble and sees him at the peak of his musical powers on the alto and soprano saxophones as well as the clarinet. His recordings have always had a Middle Eastern influence, but this is his most obvious distillation of jazz, electronica and Middle Eastern musical styles.
One of the most exciting things about Atzmon's live performances is his joyous approach to his music, and this has not been as apparent on his studio efforts to date. However, with this latest release, his personality and conviction shine through.
Atzmon composed all nine pieces, which are varied in style. "The Burning Bush" - nearly 13 minutes long - allows him to develop his theme using both clarinet and alto, and to fuse this with an unusual mixture of Arab singing and electronic effects. There are a number of tender ballads, my personal favourite being "Her Smile" which is a showcase for his alto playing. "Autumn in Baghdad" is a lovely tribute to the City.
The whole band is superb with Asaf Sirkis's versatile drumming underpinning the music with a degree of subtlety and sensitivity across a broad range of styles.
The album closes with "Prayer for Peace", a showcase for Atzmon's meditative playing - worth the price of the CD alone.
Refuge is certainly Atzmon's most accomplished effort since his award winning Exile in 2003. There is a commitment and passion to this music, which will appeal to non jazzlovers as well as the converted.