The word ‘Orient’ is a word that is often misused in Western culture, although many have tried to equate the word with southeast Asia, in actuality, the term was originally intended for what we now call the Middle East. It is with this original definition in mind that saxophonist Gilad Atzmon and his Orient House Ensemble present their Middle-Eastern flavored fusion on their new album, “The Whistle Blower”. Atzmon and his crew have been around since 2000, and this is their 8th album. As for Gilad’s ‘Oriental’ band, Frank Harrison returns on keyboards, and Yaron Stavi returns on bass, while newcomer Chris Higginbottom is in the drum chair.
“The Whistle Blower” opens strong with the high energy drumnbass/Middle Eastern fusion drive of “Gaza Mon Amour”, Atzmon turns in a furiously intense solo on this one. It’s a great cut, but its also a bit of a tease as the band never plays another track with this kind of upbeat energy for the rest of the album, not that rest of the album is bad, just different. After this opener, Gilad treats us to two ballads, with “The Romantic Church” having the stronger melody. Next is some Coltrane styled ‘spiritual jazz’ in the name of “Let Us Pray”. Atzmon and his band are capable with these sort of post bop modal excursions, but still, Gilad’s solos seem to fit better with that earlier ‘oriental’ fusion approach. The next three cuts reveal two more ballads and another semi-free post bop number. This CD closes with the title track, which is a totally unexpected cheezy ‘exotica’ number that is actually a lot of fun, if a bit out of place.
Many great jazz artists have released albums that were made up entirely of ballads, in fact, it seems like that’s a rite of passage for those who seek immortality. Possibly Gilad should consider releasing such an all ballad album, because on an album like “Whistle Blower”, which features so many slower tempos, the few upbeat tracks seem almost out of place. On the other hand, if Atzmon wants to put out a truly eclectic and colorful album, more tracks like the opener and closer would help diversify things. Still, this is a good album and recommended for fans of Atzmon, virtuoso soprano sax playing and contemporary jazz in general.