REVIEW: Gilad Atzmon and The Orient House Ensemble The Hen and Chicken 9/10

WITH a freshly installed piano the Comedy  Box at the Hen & Chicken, Bedminster proved an ideal setting for the Israeli-born saxophonist Gilad Atzmon to open their new season of jazz nights. Accompanied by The Orient House Ensemble this ultra-cosmopolitan musician performed mainly material from his recently released album Songs of the Metropolis – a jazzman's lament to the lost character of cities once noted for their distinctive musical voice.

The musical arrangements gave ample opportunity for Frank Hamilton on piano and Eddie Hick on drums to display their own skills, while an avuncular Atzmon smiled down happily at his young protégés. The ever reliable Yaron Stavi on bass completed the ensemble.


Switching smoothly between alto and tenor sax, clarinet, and the occasional brief interlude on the accordion Atzmon began with Paris. Not the frenetic American in Paris of Gershwin, but the moody impressionistic Paris of a louche smoke-filled nightclub. Then we were in Tel Aviv with up-beat busy tempos and a slight Yiddish twist. Berlin reflected the unsubtle waltz time of a German oompah band in a beer hall. Vienna, in contrast, had more of a nostalgic valse triste about it.

Atzmon is also a novelist and political commentator with a notoriously abrasive attitude towards the rich and powerful. Between numbers he had a few jibes at the legacy of Bush and Blair in the Middle East, all delivered with his traditional dry laconic wit before he gave us the Burning Bush. He may have mellowed in the 20 years he has been settled in Britain, but his ferociously skilful technique on sax and clarinet has not diminished. London does not feature in his metropolis set, but Britain is unexpectedly represented by an impressive take on the traditional tune of Scarborough Fair. Off again to a chaotic bebop style Athens and then Buenos Aires. Not a lively tango, but a darker sleepy slow lambada. This jazz journey made for a highly satisfying evening before a large and very appreciative audience.