BY Trevor Bannister
Jazz in the Round #2 | Kenton Theatre | Wednesday, February 13
GILAD Atzmon and Frank Harrison treated a sell-out audience to an exhilarating performance of jazz virtuosity in the second “Jazz in the Round” chamber concert at the Kenton Theatre last Wednesday.
One of Britain’s most expressive and animated of saxophonists, Atzmon positively thrived on the intimacy of the occasion and filled every corner of the auditorium with the glorious tone of his instruments as he roamed freely around the performance space.
The Kenton has such a wonderful acoustic that no amplification was needed, except for announcements, which Atzmon delivered in his inimitable style — a beguiling mix of perfectly timed wit and incisive comment.
Plus, he never takes himself so seriously that he can’t sometimes indulge in a little self-parody.
“What is the definition of a jazz musician?” he asked at one point. “A musician who never plays a tune the same way once!”
Atzmon and Harrison, who play with a depth of understanding born of their long association, take a tune, albeit a standard from the Great American Songbook or a jazz classic, and reshape it into an entirely new composition.
It’s a remarkable and incredibly exciting process that keeps the audience on the edge of their seats.
The programme opened with Old Folks, a sumptuous ballad famously recorded by Miles Davis in the early Sixties.
A dazzling interpretation of Autumn Leaves followed — a rollercoaster outing, baroque in style, with swift changes in time and tempo, and with each protagonist developing his own line of improvisation in fabulous counterpoint.
Autumn in Baghdad, an Atzmon original, brought a change of mood with its sombre reflection of past events in the Middle East.
The sonorous Fender-Rhodes sounds of Frank Harrison’s keyboard provided a funky launchpad for Atzmon’s soaring leap into solo flight with My Little Suede Shoes — one of Charlie Parker’s least known but most charming of compositions.
He used it to more telling and almost apocalyptic effect in his introduction to The Burning Bush.
Extraordinarily powerful and emotionally draining, this evocation of Atzmon’s Middle East homeland, stood out for me as the centrepiece of the concert.
The neat placing of Nature Boy brought the emotions back to normal running order. Jimmy van Heusen’s gorgeous ballad Here’s That Rainy Day, with Atzmon on soprano saxophone, opened the second set, followed by In a Sentimental Mood.
This loosely followed a classic collaboration between John Coltrane and Duke Ellington but bore the indelible hallmark of Atzmon and Harrison.
Giant Steps offered a further evocation of Coltrane’s spirit, though now in gentle waltz-time rather than the rampaging stampede of the original recording, while My Favourite Things fused seamlessly with Scarborough Fair to hold the audience absolutely spellbound.
No jazz performance is ever complete without a “blues” and though an untitled tango would never comply with the strict 12-bar format of this musical style, its rhythm, passion and melancholic beauty, more than fitted the bill, with stunning final chords from Frank Harrison.
His lyrical piano and Atzmon’s clarinet breathed fresh life into the familiar tones of Body and Soul before a slow-paced deeply moving Lily Marlene brought this concert of world class jazz to a close.
Don’t despair if you haven’t as yet sampled the delights of “Jazz in the Round” at the Kenton. Three more concerts are scheduled for the coming months — full details of which can be found online at www.kentontheatre.co.uk
25 February 2019