Review: Gilad Atzmon at LJF
Ronald Atkins catches the virtuosic Gilad Atzmon in a series of city-inspired pieces at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, London Jazz Festival
Since coming here from Israel and winning over pundits with his jazz, Gilad Atzmon has taken an increasingly controversial political stance that even leads occasionally to banning requests. Anyone attending this gig at the Queen Elizabeth Hall as part of the London Jazz Festival would have got an idea from the stage-side chat what the fuss was about, though it seems possible the reed virtuoso uses such utterances primarily to wind himself up for the blow. Once he starts playing, politics fly out the window.
The first half featured mostly pieces dedicated to various cities, starting with Paris, a pretty ballad Atzmon fittingly kicked off on accordion before switching to clarinet, on which he produced the occasional Artie Shaw-type glissando. On this and the following Tel Aviv, with Atzmon now on soprano, one appreciated the fresh thinking behind the routines, changes in decibel level and the order of appearance getting away from the usual round of solos.
The Sigamos String Quartet joined in for another ballad, Moscow, featuring the alto plus a brief accordion interlude leading to a chase between saxophone and pianist Frank Harrison. Two more guests, Jennifer Bennett on the cello-like viola da gamba and Yair Avidor on theorbo, a kind of lute with an extremely long neck, came on for Leipzig: Atzmon referred to this triple-time piece as being in the spirit of Bach and it certainly contained pleasing counterpoint between soprano and violin.
Bennett stayed for the follow-up, though now very much in the role of topping and tailing. This turned out to be the jazzy highlight, a triple-time romp through Scarborough Fair reflecting to some degree the legacy of John Coltrane’s My Favourite Things period. The quartet really shot off the ground during the saxophone solo, cooled down briefly when Harrison took over but soon erupted again with the remaining members of The Orient House Ensemble, Yaron Stavi on bass and Eddie Hick on drums, thundering in the background. More triple time and a brief glimpse of oompah on Berlin before the deserved break.
That was almost it, a number featuring singer Sarah Gillespie - diction a bit off from where I sat - ending as I departed. That sadly meant missing the follow-up, Atzmon’s take on Charlie Parker with strings. Once, I would have done the decent thing: with old age and the experience of trains that do a runner, or rather don't, I chickened out. If the first half was anything to go by, I must have missed some great music.
Photography by Brian Payne