Review: Talinka

Nigel Jarrett is enthralled at Black Mountain Jazz, Abergavenny, by the quartet led by Tali Atzmon with her husband Gilad and others in close support

Gilad Atzmon was giving added value as a musician before the term was coined. That he should be mentioned before his wife, the singer-actor Tali, in a review of their four-piece band Talinka (pictured right) merely confirms that he remains irrepressible too. But his sardonic humour and his rapport with the audience could not detract at this outing from the way her unpredicated vocal delivery gave the band its consistent depth of emotion and breadth of vision. Not once did her subtly inflected voice lapse into mannerism or cliché, which in some better-known but lesser performers impedes access to the core of their songs.

To celebrate and promote their eponymous album, the Atzmons were joined by Jenny Bliss Bennett, doubling viola da gamba, baroque violin, flute and vocals, and Yaron Stavi, Gilad's Orient House Ensemble colleague, on double bass. Gilad himself looked like a multi-instrumentalist in the middle of moving home, surrounded as he was by bass clarinet, guitar, accordion and soprano sax. Not least of the band's achievements was the ability to express an unmistakable jazz feeling even when the conceptions derived from a Jewish folk tradition as well as a universal jazz lexicon. At first, with an 18th-century set of strings, the instrumentation looked eccentric, but it worked immediately, not least because Bliss's viola da gamba did not mimic a symphony orchestra cello in playing around with the same notes as the bass at the octave but had a virile life of its own in accord with whatever instrument Gilad had chosen and often in support of the singer. The same with her violin, its gut strings and its reproduction 17th-century bow both marks of the authentic. Bliss added vocals too. The second set opened with the violinist and Stavi steaming through a free working of Biber, so as not to deploy totally the baroque element on other duties.

That the combination of instruments enhanced rather than frustrated this blend of musical provenances was illustrated at the start, as Gilad's accordion and Tali's Arabic wail introduced Four 2 Tango, the echoes of the Middle East establishing themselves before the accordion drifted into Latin-American mode. It happened for this reviewer whenever Gilad strapped on the instrument, Lola established as a quirkily slow tango with Bliss on violin. It would be fair to say that Gilad's contributions on accordion and guitar were minimalist, his more aggressively brilliant flights reserved for the soprano, notably in an extended duo on Blue Monk with the double bass - actually, it was a community affair, Gilad encouraging a capacity house to copy his increasingly complex scat motifs, in the style of Dizzy Gillespie. As entertainers, Gilad and Diz have a lot in common.

He gave the bass clarinet a few outings, memorably on Losing Vision, a tune written by Tali, inspired by the Syrian conflict and dedicated to all those displaced by war. Her potent and unmediated vocal line turned it into a prayer for peace, enlivened by an animato bridge passage for bass clarinet and viola da gamba. The same instruments deepened the heartache of Billie Holiday's Don't Explain and an equal intensity was uncovered in You Don't Know What Love Is, another tune associated with Lady Day, as the chords created by soprano and viola da gamba set up a lamentation wholly justified by the lyrics. As another variable, the drone-like bass, viola da gamba and accordion on Scarborough Fair further illustrated the inventive use of a small range of instruments, to which Tali's vocalese on Hermeto Pascoal's Bebe was an addition. It seemed there was nothing this enterprising quartet couldn't do to make the most of a wide range of material. The gig also illustrated how live music based on recorded material can sound refreshingly different, even allowing for the absence on this occasion of pianist Frank Harrison, another OHE member. That's jazz.

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