Tango Siempre with Gilad Atzmon
We were at The Wardrobe in Leeds last night to see Tango Siempre with Gilad Atzmon. Tango Siempre are one of the UK’s leading tango ensembles and are known for new British music inspired by the passion and flair of Tango Argentino. The regular lineup is: Pete Rosser (accordion), Ros Stephen (violin) and Jonathan Taylor (piano), although on this tour they are supported and outnumbered by guest musicians: Bethan Lewis (viola), Yaron Stavi (double bass), Steve Argüelles (drummer/remixer) and Gilad Atzmon (saxophones).
And what a night it was. The regular Tango Siempre people were on top form. Smooth and committed playing from Ros Stephen and dynamic and punchy piano from Jonathan Taylor. But with the addition of their guests they took us on an exploration of the boundaries of the form, fusing traditional and nuevo tango styles with jazz improvisation and new music written for and by members of the band.
The addition of virtuoso jazz saxophonist Gilad Atzmon (winner of the BBC Jazz Award) turned a good musical experience into a great one.
Looking like a merge between Robert de Niro and Denis Hopper, with a profound case of myopia thrown into the mix, Gilad Atzmon wasn’t happy with the sound system. Nevertheless, or perhaps because of his dissatisfaction, he played his instruments with passionate abstraction.
He made everything new; his tones twisting and turning the ever-malleable form of tango into vignettes from the middle-east, only to push them immediately into different shapes, European folk, British punk or a maze of American jazz horns from the forties or fifties, conjuring up a dizzyingly cross-cultural mix.
He gave us passion, drama, sentimentality and from time to time an unexpected and melancholy beauty that left his audience stunned and shaking their heads in wonderment.
Atzmon was born in Israel and raised as a secular Jew. He served his compulsory military service at the time of the Lebanon war (1982), an event that prompted his scepticism about Zionism and Israeli politics. Ten years later he fled his native country with a no-return ticket. In the UK he studied Philosophy but after graduation chose a musical rather than an academic career. He was a member of The Blockheads and toured with them and Ian Dury during the last months of Dury’s life. He now lives in London and considers himself an exile.
I always mention that giving interviews saves me from spending money on shrinks. I think that the need to re-invent oneself is not necessarily an escape. It is rather a search for the real essence. In fact, the process of re-invention draws its power from a clear assault on the ego. You start to play when you stop thinking. Using Lacanian terminology you may say: “You are where you do not think”. It may sound funny, but I do realise now that it is my love for jazz that made me more and more critical of Jewish identity and Zionism. At the age of eighteen, when I was supposed to become a supremacist Judeo-soldier, I fell in love with Coltrane and Bird. It was then when I realised that the culture that inspires me (Afro-American) had nothing to do with the culture I was supposed to be fighting for.
Mossad’s motto, he remembers, is: “By way of deception, thou shalt do war.”
As funny as it may sound, when I was twenty-six I received a formal letter from the Israeli ‘prime minister’s office’ inviting me to join the Israeli secret service (basically the Mossad). I hope that you realise that I didn’t go for that tempting career shift. I do not have any doubt that they knew exactly who I am, what I do and how to exploit the beauty of music.