Review: Gilad Atzmon
(Cadogan Hall, Friday November 6th 2009)
Gilad Atzmon's Cadogan Hall concert was based around his album "In Loving Memory of America. " But the complete Atzmon package contains, in addition to the music, his particular blend of lively entertainment and provocation.
First, though, the music. One of its starting points is Charlie Parker's With Strings album of 1950. Atzmon takes these songs, and particlularly the bitter-sweet ones which deal with feelings of displacement and loss- I didn't know what Time It was, If I should Lose You, Just Friends, Lovers no More , Yesterdays- and extends and enjoys them. I clocked in I didn't Know at a langorous, smoochy tempo of crotchet equals about 60. Lush.
The combination of a sensitive and highly musical jazz trio - Frank Harrison on piano, Yaron Stavi on bass, Eddie Hick on drums, and the bright- toned and responsive string quartet led by Ros Stephen worked well.
Jazz is only one part of the musical palette the group draws from. Which, incidentally, made one curious remark made by a thirty-something posh chap to his date seem particularly prattish: "It's jazz, you know. The place is just full of people wearing corduroy."
Atzmon is a very musical magpie indeed, who borrows from many forms of the musical vernacular: from Klezmer, from Egyptian music, from pop songs. There was an extended and unacknowledged excursion into the calypso Fungi Mama. It's a shifting sound world. Atzmon's own compositions are often based on very short melodic cells. Ostinati in every sense.....
Atzmon has a fine band: young drummer Eddie Hick , a name new to me, played subtly and musically, and balanced well, bringing a different colour from the more established Asaf Sirkis who has been a fellow conspirator of Atzmon for some years. With no amplification, Yaron Stavi 's reliable communicative bass-playing constituted more of a feel, a presence, an underpinning, rather than sound. Fine pianist Frank Harrison provided supportive richly-coloured piano playing, but needed to be more audible.
Atzmon also puts on a good show. He never stays on the same spot for very long. He struts, circling the stage, while the other seven players occupy their fixed positions in a semicircle. Atzmon plays, listens, makes jokes, lectures. The alto sax gets carried under his arm like an Uzi sub-machine gun. He has even developed his own variant on the British silly walk tradition of Max Wall, Eric Morecambe and John Cleese. These aspects of Atzmon's performance appeared to be getting spurred on - no, he's not exactly shy of the camera- by the presence of a good-natured Persian-speaking documentary crew, who were happily and not too obtrusively buzzing around the hall throughout.
Atzmon's political point-scoring at the expense of miscellaneous targets such as US immigration officials and the Jewish Chronicle sometimes lapsed into stream of consciousness. I sensed that the Cadogan Hall Friday night crowd was tolerating being ravaged with this polemic, rather than really buying it.
But Atzmon knows how to entertain: a closing "Wonderful World" sent a good-sized Cadogan Hall crowd away smiling, enlivened, and optimistic. A nice sentiment with which to drift off into the start of the weekend.