Mojo, 4 stars!
Ian Mann, THE JAZZ MANN 4 Stars
"An impressive leadership début from Tali Atzmon. The album touches many bases with its wide ranging and evocative arrangements while her lyrics are perceptive and intelligent and enhance the music."
Talinka is a new quartet led by vocalist, songwriter and actress Tali Atzmon. Israeli born but London based Tali is the wife of multi-instrumentalist, composer, band-leader author and political activist Gilad Atzmon, a well known and (mostly) well loved figure on the UK music scene.
Tali has provided backing vocals on a number of Gilad’s many album releases but as far as I’m aware Talinka represents her first musical project as a leader. Alongside Tali’s vocals the band features Gilad on bass clarinet, soprano sax and accordion and Yaron Stavi on double bass, the latter a long term associate of Gilad’s and a member of Gilad’s regular working band the Orient House Ensemble.
The inclusion of Gilad and Yaron may be fairly predictable but Tali’s other choice to complete the Talinka line up is less so. Jenny Bliss Bennett is a musician more closely associated with baroque music. A specialist on the viola da gamba she also contributes baroque violin, flute and backing vocals. The viola de gamba is a six stringed, fretted instrument, somewhere in size between a regular viola and a cello. It can be either bowed or plucked and strummed like a guitar. Bliss Bennett moves freely between both techniques and thus fulfils a rhythmic as well as a melodic role in the creation of the music.
The album also includes guest appearances by pianist Frank Harrison and percussionist Enzo Zirilli, two musicians also closely associated with the Orient House Ensemble.
The inclusion of Bliss Bennett helps to ensure that Talinka has a distinct and unusual group sound.
Perhaps this is best described by the band themselves who provide album liner notes that summarise their music thus;
“Talinka is a music-loving adventure. For us the love of music extends beyond style and genre; we blend folk, early music, jazz, tango and free improvisation. We believe in songs and beauty being vital forces of nature. We adhere to simplicity, harmony and warmth. The outcome is a natural breathing, deep and spacious sonic adventure”.
The programme consists of seven original compositions written by members of the group plus arrangements of “Invitation” by the Polish film composer Bronislau Kaper and the jazz standards “Don’t Explain” and “You Don’t Know What Love Is”.
Talinka blur both musical and geographical boundaries. The album begins with “Talinka” itself, a tune written by Gilad Atzmon. Paced by guest Harrison’s careful and exact piano the tune features the pure sound of Tali’s wordless vocals, which sound almost Brazilian at times. Meanwhile the inflections of Gilad’s soprano sax suggest that the music also has roots in the Middle East. Whatever its provenance the piece is a thing of quiet beauty, wholly in accordance with the group’s mission statement.
Tali explains her song “Losing Vision” thus;
“I wrote the song in response to the Syrian refugee crisis. The bass clarinet together with the viola da gamba creates a primordial auditory realm that evokes a deep sense of Sisyphean existential struggle yet is a cry for change”.
Not surprisingly the mood is sombre, with deep, resinous bass clarinet combining with melancholy bowed viola da gamba while Stavi’s bass acts as the song’s anchor. Tali’s deep, grave, evocative vocal expresses both the suffering and the inherent dignity of the refugees while subtly alluding to the song “People Who Need People” as she sings the lines “people dream of leaving” and “people dream of loving”. But despite all of the song’s sadness the ultimate message is still one of hope.
Credited to the entire band “Baroque Bottom” begins by featuring the ethereal sound of Tali’s wordless vocals, subsequently joined by those of Bliss Bennett, floating above Stavi’s sparse bass accompaniment. The introduction of Gilad’s soprano sax, which subsequently combines with Bliss Bennett’s flute and Tali’s now soaring voice steers the music into the kind of territory inhabited by Jan Garbarek and the Hilliard Ensemble. I suspect that the joky title is probably a homage to Robert Wyatt, with whom Gilad Atzmon once worked, and specifically Wyatt’s landmark 1974 album “Rock Bottom”.
Harrison’s piano returns for Tali’s supremely melancholic interpretation of Billie Holiday’s “Don’t Explain” which sounds even sadder than the original. The piece is measured by Harrison’s piano and the sorrow in Tali’s voice is complemented by the sepia tinged combination of bass clarinet and viola da gamba.
Bronislau Kaper was a Polish born composer who emigrated to the US where he wrote songs for film scores, some of them becoming jazz standards. Talinka’s arrangement of his piece “Invitation” begins the deeply resonant sounds of Stavi’s double bass and Gilad’s grainy bass clarinet. Stavi subsequently strikes up a groove, augmented on this occasion by Zirilli’s subtle percussion shadings. Tali’s sultry vocals are accompanied by a combination of reeds and accordion as Gilad overdubs himself. In a typically genre bending performance the accordion hints at Argentinian tango, the soprano sax and bass clarinet at the sounds of the Middle East.
Gilad’s own “Four 2 Tango” is arguably less ambiguous. He’s worked frequently with tango groups, notably Tango Siempre and features himself on accordion here. However Tali’s wordless vocals, which extend into some quite extreme areas (shades of Julie Tippetts and other vocal improvisers here), plus the sound of Bliss Bennett’s viola da gamba take this particular tango to some interesting and unexpected places.
The group penned “Heimat” also features wordless vocals with Tali’s larynx teamed with bass clarinet and viola da gamba on a brief but atmospheric piece, again with echoes of Garbarek and the Hilliards but with a pronounced Middle Eastern flavour.
The piece acts as a kind of overture to an extraordinary version of the jazz standard “You Don’t Know What Love Is”. Despite the presence of Harrison’s mellifluous piano in the mix the power of Tali’s voice allied to the keening of Gilad’s soprano and the dramatic bowing of Bliss Bennett brings out the bleakness and pathos of Don Raye’s lyric.
Interestingly there’s an equally arresting interpretation of this song on “Nightfall”, the recent album by the trio Quercus featuring singer June Tabor, saxophonist Iain Ballamy and pianist Huw Warren, another drummerless line up. It’s intriguing that both of these ‘chamber jazz’ groups should have chosen to tackle this song and that both of them imbue it with such a visceral emotional impact. Presumably they came to it wholly independently of one another. Both versions are stunning and I wouldn’t like to choose between them.
The melancholic mood continues with Tali’s song “When You’re Gone” a song featuring the composer’s emotive vocals teamed with drone of her husband’s accordion. Bliss Bennett and Stavi also combine well with the mournful ring of Bliss Bennett’s strings enhancing the sense of yearning and loss expressed in Tali’s lyrics.
The album concludes with Tali’s evocative “Every Now and Then”, a song whose melody and lyrics remind me of a Leonard Cohen number as Gilad’s reeds and accordions add an element Middle Eastern exotica.
Released on Gilad’s own Fanfare imprint “Talinka” represents an impressive leadership début from Tali Atzmon. Musically the album touches many bases with its wide ranging and evocative arrangements and the standard of the musicianship is excellent, as one would expect from players of this calibre. The arrangements are consistently interesting and exotic and the combination of baroque specialist Bliss Bennett and multi-instrumentalist Gilad is highly distinctive.
Some commentators have cited the lack of range of Tali’s voice but it is well suited to her chosen material, both her original songs and her interpretations of jazz standards. Her background as an actress has helped to ensure that she is able to “get inside” a song, just as June Tabor does. And let’s not forget that on wordless pieces like “Four 2 Tango” she’s prepared to push her voice into more adventurous areas. Meanwhile her lyrics are perceptive, evocative and intelligent and thoroughly enhance the music.
London Jazz News ( Album Launch gig review)
Having reviewed Talinka’s debut album earlier this month (LINK), I was keen to see how their beautifully orchestrated recording would translate into a live performance. In the warm friendly setting of Jazz Cafe Posk, the quartet, led by vocalist Tali Atzmon, convened to produce an evening of exquisite music, making a strong case for combining elements as diverse as seventeenth century baroque and South American tango into the jazz idiom. The start seemed tentative – perhaps because the PA was a little off in the first couple of numbers – but they soon gelled, resulting in affecting renditions of their album material such as Tali Atzmon’s mesmerising song Losing Vision and Invitation, a Polish standard by Bronisław Kaper, as well as a lovely Brazilian number - not included on the album.
The second set was even more assured, opening with bassist Yaron Stavi and early music specialist Jenny Bliss Bennett playing one of the flamboyant Mystery Sonatas for violin by Biber. A couple of tunes later, guest pianist Frank Harrison and Gilad Atzmon on soprano saxophone also did a duo turn, playing a very free interpretation of the haunting tango Oblivion by Astor Piazzola.
It has to be said that on this occasion, however amazing Gilad’s musicality (he also played bass clarinet, guitar and accordion), it was Bliss Bennett who stole the show, with her pitch-perfect, superb projection whether on viola da gamba, violin or flute. Tali Atzmon’s vocal range and unaffected grace was equally engaging, and she demonstrated an incredible emotional range too, from deep melancholia on In My Solitude and You Don’t Know What Love Is, to flirtatious cheekiness on Whatever Lola Wants. The set ended with the Kurt Weill-esque Every Now and Then, to rapturous applause. To judge by the reaction, this unusual band, with its fearless use of light and shade, looks set to subtly expand the horizons of the jazz world.
By Sarah Chaplin
Shepherd Express, USA
On its self-titled album, Talinka brings together an unusual set of instruments (viola de gamba, bass clarinet, double bass) behind Tali Atzmon’s exotic art song vocals. The original songs are dreamy and often undefinable, infused with elements of jazz, echoes of klezmer and abstractions of tango. Talinka also borrows a few pages from the Great American Songbook in torchy, after-hours renditions of “Don’t Explain” and “You Don’t Know What Love Is.” The album’s closing selection, the mordantly romantic “Every Now and Then,” is a dead-ringer for latter-day Leonard Cohen.
For anyone with a concern to keep music in neat categories, jazz in all its splendid variety is the irrepressible resistance. Improvising musicians can start anywhere, with any material and with any combination of instruments and create sounds that are at once familiar and recast afresh. While it’s true that the viola da gamba is a rare bird outside of renaissance and baroque circles, what enthusiast for improvised music could fail to be intrigued to see that it was to feature in the performance by the vocal quartet Talinka?
Tali Atzmon’s voice features unerring sensitivity to pitch and highly expressive but never overelaborated lyrical delivery. Her approach to lyrics—a combination of her own material and standards—had a directness and sensitivity that favoured simplicity and nuance over the familiar range of vocal techniques which have become a staple of jazz singing over many years. Her choice of material tended toward the elegiac, which perfectly matched the strikingly unusual combination of instruments supporting her—not least the combination of bass clarinet (or accordion) and viola da gamba. There was another creative dimension in the way in which even familiar tunes such as “How Deep is the Ocean’ and ‘You Don’t Know What Love Is’ were delivered with a jazz singer’s flare, but with instrumental tempos and harmonies subtly shifted eastward.
As ever, Gilad Atzmon’s instrumental fireworks—now extended to guitar as well as bass clarinet, soprano saxophone and accordion—were a treat, closely patterning or supporting Tali Atzmon’s vocal lines; and on a solo excursion, blasting off past the known boundaries of the musical universe before landing back precisely for the re-entry of the vocal line. Jenny Bliss Bennett moved with ease between viola da gamba and violin; and the harmonies she and Gilad achieved were a particular delight: when else are we likely to hear the viola da gamba and bass clarinet supporting a song, or the plucked strings of that instrument against the extended chords of the accordion?
Special mention goes to bass player Yaron Stavi whose musical judgment is a match for the beauty of his tone. With only two other instrumentalists, both at times in a continuo mode, his bass playing was critical in maintaining the forward momentum, but always supportively: the group sound was quite spacious, allowing the qualities of Tali Atzmon’s singing to shine though. But Yaron also had his star turns: an instrumental blast with Gilad on soprano saxophone, which took ‘In A sentimental Mood’ on a wild klezmer excursion; and—purists beware!—a duet with Jenny Bliss Bennett on violin, playing a 17th century sonata by Heinrich Biber. His bass line was wholly in keeping with the character of that music, but with technique to spare, we didn’t need to strain to hear the occasional embellishment, too.
Jazz gets everywhere; and because it doesn’t have any closed doors, forms and instruments both new and old find their way into jazz. The possibilities are endless, extending in every direction. The Talinka Quartet needs no instruction in that.
© J. Whitman
London Jazz News
Every now and again you come across a jazz album which dispenses with all the usual features and starts afresh: instrumentation, form, melody, harmony and soloing protocols are all reworked here with simplicity, depth and maturity. The project brings together vocalist Tali Atzmon and her multi-instrumentalist husband, Gilad, with Yaron Stavi on bass, baroque specialist Jenny Bliss on viola da gamba, violin and flute, and on some tracks Frank Harrison on piano, and has created a format in which this newly configured band can explore original material and jazz standards in an appealingly dark and brooding way.
The eponymous opening track is a taut yet delicate interplay between wordless vocals and soprano saxophone, setting the scene for an enticing range of combos that follow: viola and bass clarinet, accordion and piano, voice and bass, bass and bass clarinet. A strong feature of the album is a series of precise rhythmic textures which the vocals can cut across, picking out an unexpectedly fresh melodic line or tonality, breathing new life into songs like the bittersweet Don’t Explain or the elegiac You Don’t Know What Love Is, and moving chamber-like between tangos and baroque flavours. It’s like tasting a very complex malt whisky in which you can sense the landscape it came from and the time taken to reach this moment from its inception. The intensity and topicality of Losing Vision is a particular highlight.
At times, especially when Gilad is playing his soprano, it’s like listening to a pared-down balkanised version of Garbarek and the Hilliard Ensemble working through some early Piazzola. The provocative, disturbing turns on some solos are artfully balanced by the overall sense of lush restraint. It’s creative without trying too hard, and impressive throughout is the colour and control in evidence in Tali Atzmon’s voice, which bestows an emotional timbre to the band’s offering that is full of tenderness, of warmth touched with sadness.
By Sarah Chaplin
KIND OF JAZZ MAGAZINE
An album to put on when you are in a good mood in the knowledge your mood will still be good at the end.
Talinka is the debut CD from Tali Atzmon's Talinka ensemble released on Fanfare Records. Tali is an actress, film maker and musician from Israel and here she teams up with Jenny Bliss Bennett on Viola De Gamba, Violin, Flute and vocals, Yaron Stavi on double bass and Gilad Atzmon on bass clarinet, soprano sax and accordion.
This is an album of atmospheres, ethereal mists and wisps of evocative erudition snatched from the air and captured, held in place by the steadfast hands of the musicians and over ridden by the gentle, tuneful vocals of Tali. The CD is a great introduction to Tali and her musical class and style. From the gentle, lilting wordless opening track, Talinka to the moody and dark tinged, Losing Vision the CD shows a range and wealth of vocal ability. On Losing Vision the bass clarinet works some magic whilst the vocals sear their words into the slightly vacuous atmosphere left open by the sparsity of the arrangement - this was penned by Tali and the arrangement is intriguing in that it works its way into upper register almost subliminally and is basically a duet between bass clarinet and voice. Baroque Bottom is atmospheric and light of tone, with a deliciously quirksome interlude from flute, soprano sax and gentle, slightly overworked but still interesting vocals. Billie Holiday's Don't Explain is given a breathy delivery and suits Tali's voice well and benefits from not trying to be anything like Holiday's version so it takes on its own identity.
Bronislau Kaper's Invitation begins with deep, sonorous bass clarinet before percussion and double bass pad out the beat between them, developing the swingy, sassy number but here it has a distinctly eastern promise added by the soprano of Gilad Atzmon which is playful and technically superb. Four to Tango is a Gilad Atzmon written piece developed around a rhythmic theme set by the accordion which is deftly counterpointed and textured by the bass and later vocals introduce an over arching gentle modus. There is a lovely section where vocals and soprano sax interact in eerie cacophony and a bit of exploration seems on the cards, in delightful opposition to the theme until it is re-introduced bringing the piece back to ground again.
Heimet is a group penned number with a slightly bonkers arrangement centred on several registers and works itself into the opening of Raye DePaul's You Don't Know What Love Is which is almost perfectly positioned to ambush the listener with its dark take on this number. From the gapped chorded opening to the gentle, sensual lyrics and tune, this is delivered well. When You're Gone is slow, gentle, easy on the ears and contains a gorgeous and well defined string interlude with bass and viola literally speaking in song to each other, I just wanted the accordion to stop at times. Every Now and Then closes the album and tells a dark story reminding us the importance of remembering.
This album is decent, fine and everything a good album should be. The vocals are low, soothing and strong with a touch of Kitt thrown in now and again for good measure. There is not a huge range but the songs are well penned and chosen to suit which is sometimes just as important. The arrangements have Mr. Atzmon stamped firmly on them and personally thinking, there is a sense that just a touch more generosity to the vocals would have been interesting but here there is folk, jazz and Eastern blended together, with a touch of the Baroque with the use of the gamba in a genre transcension which defies categorisation and time- just good music should be. The musical backing is excellent and the arrangements sound and full of texture, which makes this an album which is easy to listen to - the slight problem is there is nothing to woo or wow in terms of exploration but there is a sense that is maybe around the corner. The sleeve notes say the musicians believe in simplicity and have a hope the listener will enjoy the CD and this is fulfilled. It is an album to put on when you are in a good mood in the knowledge your mood will still be good at the end.
Written by Sammy Stein
Talinka @ St Ives Jazz Club - May 23
Gilad Atzmon (bass clarinet, sorprano sax, accordian and classical guitar); Tali Atzmon (vocal); Jenny Bliss Bennett (viola da gamba); Yaron Stavi (bass).
(Review by Peter Jones/ Photos courtesy of Trevor Lever)
A good-sized St Ives crowd gathered at the self-styled ‘last jazz club before New York’ on Tuesday night. As Talinka took the stage, many were wondering how the band would compare with Gilad Atzmon’s other musical ventures. In fact, though, the brains behind this project belong to his wife, the singer Tali Atzmon.
Looking at the line-up of bass clarinet, viola da gamba, double bass and vocals, one might predict a coalition of chaos. But one would be wrong. Very wrong. Talinka have a strange yet distinctive musical style whose main feature is an intense other-worldly melancholy, part middle-eastern, part Brazilian, part Berlin cabaret, part Tom Waits.
Gilad switches constantly between bass clarinet, accordian and nylon-stringed guitar, but the band’s real wild card is viola da gamba player Jenny Bliss Bennett, who wears a happily bemused expression throughout, even when singing vocal harmonies with Tali. In case you’ve never seen one, the viola da gamba is a fretted, six-stringed instrument a little smaller than a cello, played upright, and either bowed or plucked like a guitar. Bliss Bennett sometimes switches to violin. The last element of the rich Talinka stew is energetic double bassist Yaron Stavi.
A good example of their style is Don’t Explain, a bleak enough song when rendered by Billie Holiday, but now imbued with an almost unbearable sadness and longing. Another is Gilad’s composition Four 2 Tango, also their opening number, which sounds like someone trying to awake from an unpleasant dream. Or Duke’s In My Solitude, another one Billie used to sing, here redolent of deep melancholy and world-weary resignation.
Wait, come back – all this is a good thing: Talinka’s sadness is mixed with much human warmth, and this gives the music terrific emotional depth, whilst the unusual instrumentation lends familiar songs a whiff of the exotic. Tali herself is a wonderful songwriter – I particularly enjoyed Every Now And Then, which could have been composed by Leonard Cohen, and When You’re Gone, a bolero with gorgeous minor/major modulations. And throughout, the joker, provocateur and controversialist Gilad keeps up his usual banter with everyone in the room, including his wife. Very entertaining and richly enjoyable.
Bebop Spoken Here (album review)
Although far less well-known than her multi-instrumentalist husband Gilad, Tali Atzmon deserves better recognition for the quality of her writing and singing on this debut album of the group that includes both of them, along with Jenny Bliss Bennett on the baroque instrument the viola da gamba, and Yaron Stavi on double bass. Not included in the live line-up but heard occasionally on the album are pianist Frank Harrison and percussionist Enzo Zirilli.
Musically, Talinka follow a similarly winding path to the one trodden by Gilad over the years; it’s the sound of people around the world who have had a hard time of it - keening, remorseful music, but full of beauty. On the sweet, gentle title track, Tali sings wordlessly in the style of the Brazilian Minas Gerais region. More typical perhaps is Tali’s composition Losing Vision, a song about refugees, on which she is backed only by bass clarinet, bowed viola da gamba and bass. Her other two tunes – When You’re Gone and Every Now And Then – are among the strongest on the album.
The jazz standards are not neglected: that icon of passive suffering, Billie Holiday, is represented by Don’t Explain, whilst a similar mood is evoked by Gene de Paul’s You Don’t Know What Love Is. Invitation, with its sinuous, hard-to-sing melody, sounds Brazilian but is really of Polish origin, like its composer. Here it’s rendered as a tango (so now we’re in Argentina), with middle-eastern soprano sax thrown in. We hear the tango again on Gilad’s composition Four 2 Tango, with another beautiful, wordless melody, plus some rather alarming vocal improvisation.
It all sounds like a recipe for musical chaos, especially with no drummer, so why does it work? The answer, I think, is that the band doesn’t care about musical, historical or international boundaries. They play what sounds good.