Band on the Wall, Manchester, March 15, 2013
Good music is not enough: Gilad Atzmon has always favoured high concepts to help convey his message. This gets him into trouble when the high concepts are overtly political. Atzmon must be the only jazzman whose merchandise contains the last half dozen CDs and a book of polemic entitled The Wandering Who? "Stick to the music," has been the refrain of conservatives since the radical anti-Zionist arrived from Israel in 1994. Except that his world view is evident in every note of the music: variously etched with white-hot passion or withering scorn and brimming with controlled anger or raucous glee.
His latest CD, Songs of the Metropolis, contains pieces inspired by cities and locales. What could be more harmless?
The focus here is on his composing as much as his playing. 'Moscow' is an iron romance held together by rolling Borodin chords, shifting between severity and prettiness, and 'Berlin' invokes the shade of Kurt Weil with a spot of Weimar-style decadence. 'Tel Aviv' begins with an urgent clamour before the soprano digs into some deep blues, coloured by Arab modes, and rapidly gains in intensity. The power and bite of Atzmon full-on is breathtaking. A mighty handful, indeed.
If the records are powerful, they only hint at the unfettered force of Atzmon in the flesh.