Herald Scotland: The Tide has Changed (4 stars)

Gilad Atzmon’s Orient House Ensemble, Glasgow Art Club

11 Oct 2010

The Thursday jazz nights that are currently filling Glasgow Art Club’s baronial back room with music added a new slant – stand-up comedy – with the arrival of Gilad Atzmon.

And if the Israeli-born saxophonist’s improvisations walk on a knife-edge, then so, too, do his between-tunes effusions. His treatise on the inventor of something called “the ruffle” that introduced his singular take on Ravel’s Bolero might well have seen Atzmon carted off by men in white coats but for a gleam in his eye that reassured us that we were being strung along.

Even when he puts saxophone or clarinet to his lips, you’re never quite sure whether the outcome is going to be serious brilliance, mock sentimentality, a combination of the two, or slap-stick humour. But if it’s serious brilliance, look out. The title track from the album that has occasioned his wonderfully compact band’s current 40-date tour, The Tide Has Changed, began with Atzmon suggesting totally – and tonally – convincingly that the alto saxophone was a traditional Middle Eastern instrument. The soprano solo’s melancholic bowed bass and piano theme threatened to warp the instrument through the sheer heat it developed.

If Atzmon is the japester-cum-creatively intense front man, then his pianist, Frank Harrison is the fall guy with the calming influence and a slower-burning, at times rhapsodic, soloing style. Bassist Yaron Stavi and new drummer Eddie Hick are both the butts of jokes and supple, supportive rhythm providers. Breaking into madcap song is also in their job descriptions but it all adds up to high grade musical entertainment.

Star rating: ****