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