Gilad Atzmon, the expatriate Israeli saxophonist, has somehow found time to finish his first novel along with fulfilling one of the busiest gigging schedules on the British scene, being a member of the late-lamented Ian Dury's Blockheads, and much else besides. This album and Atzmon's book, A Guide to the Perplexed, may have close ties intellectually but are worlds apart emotionally.
The novel is a satire hung on themes of identity and exile, voyeurism versus involvement, and the brittleness of reality. But though this gifted performer's music is also jammed with complexities and often sounds as if it is wrestling with cultural dilemmas, it's rarely ironic or mocking. Exile is undoubtedly Atzmon's best-resolved album so far, a rich and eloquent flight across the music of many lands (notably Palestine, Romania, Israel, Britain, Italy and the US) with an expanded Orient House Ensemble including the extraordinary Palestinian singer Reem Kelani.
Kelani's searing sustained sound, spiralling off into a chilling high warble, opens the set against deep bowed double-bass drones, with Atzmon's mercurial clarinet lines conversing with her, before accelerating into an urgent folk dance. On saxophone, Atzmon re-enters with his characteristic mingling of Middle Eastern microtonalism, and an eerie elision of notes. The sound palette is substantially expanded, with violin, accordion, Romanian flute (hauntingly Morricone-like on the track Orient House), and oud (Dhafer Youssef), but Atzmon's jazz improviser identity is always at the core of the music's spontaneity.
This is an ensemble performance, and the themes don't perhaps linger in the mind as long as the feel of the group in action. But Atzmon and Kelani are particularly fascinating - the former a master of dynamics and the slow-build, mixing lyricism with hoarse, Coltranesque squalls, a combination for which he would have a formidable international reputation as a soloist alone. But his self-appointed mission to restore to jazz a cultural-political clout it had in the first bop era and in the free-jazz of the 1960s makes him something considerably bigger.