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.