Monthly Archives: May 2009

Gilad Atzmon and the Real Jazz Quartet. London, May 2009.

I went to see Gilad Atzmon play on Friday, once more at the Vortex – three gigs in ten days: they just seemed to hit the spot in May (there is nothing in their June programme I particularly want to see!).

I had seen Atzmon’s Oriental House Ensemble a couple of times, both of which were excellent but frustrating gigs: his talking and, though I agree with him, his politics seemed to get in the way of the music.

This time, he was with a new quartet, and they were very good. They played mostly standards in a modern post-bop sound – he plays alto much like Bird, and his playing was full of references to Coltrane. What I really liked, though, was his clarinet playing – particularly the bass clarinet, which had just a beautiful sound.

He did talk a lot, although I don’t think he mentioned politics at all – surprising given its previous prominence. (It might be just the Oriental House Ensemble that does that – it is a political beast.) Instead, he told a few jokes and a couple of shaggy dog stories.

His playing was fast, fiery and energetic – a bit surprising since he was saying he had been feeling so ill that he went to the Royal Free Hospital (this was a story, though, so I guess he could have been making it up to get in some jokes…). The other members of the band were also excellent – Frank Harrison on piano was really excellent, and I loved Stephen Keogh’s drumming (once he’d warmed up a bit) – he did a couple of extended duets with Atzmon which really flew.

At times it felt a little gimmicky – Atzmon played alto ad soprano simultaneously (like Roland Kirk), which looked good but didn’t actually add much. They played a very good jazz version of Ravel’s Bolero, which was surprising but really worked well.

But as Atzmon himself said – though he was making a joke of it – half way through the second half it seemed like we had heard all the licks and riffs once already, and they were just retreading the tires. Perhaps he should have played a little slower, and made those solos work a bit harder!

Into the Vortex: Evan Parker “Foxes (Slightly Foxed) and Speake/Batchelor. London, May 2009.

I had been back in London a month when I thought I would like to go to some jazz; so I went to two gigs in the space of a week, in the same venue.

I had been to the old Vortex, which was around the corner from the original Jazz Café on Newington Green; but that was getting on for over fifteen years ago. The Vortex moved a couple of years ago, a mile or so to Dalston.

What attracted me to the first gig was the drummer. Well, the saxophonist too – it was Evan Parker’s gig – and he had Louis MoholoMoholo playing with him, on a visit from South Africa. I have seen Moholo play a lot over the years (I first saw him in 1974…) in a variety of bands, often with Parker in the band too. [He used to be plain Louis Moholo, but he is now billed as the double barrelled Moholo-Moholo, so I guess that’s how he wants it, and I see no reason to dissent.]

They were playing in a quartet under the name Foxes (Slightly Foxed), with a bass player and pianist I didn’t know – John Edwards and Alexander Hawkins respectively. I knew they’d be pretty free, but they were a lot freer than I expected: there were no “tunes” played that night. It was good – Parker is an exciting saxophonist, Moholo-Moholo is a great drummer (though it wasn’t a night for him to swing – it wasn’t that kind of music) and I was impressed by the Hawkins and Edwards – but it was a bit too free for me.

The Vortex was packed, though – surprising, frankly, given the nature of the music: free jazz is not usually a sell-out. I was chatting to a couple of guys on the same table who said that Parker’s regular gigs at the Vortex are always popular.

So I was really surprised that the gig I went to on Monday night was practically empty – there were twelve punters (including me) at the start of the gig, and fifteen at the end. Maybe because it was a Monday night? Strange.

This gig was in honour of Ornette Coleman; he is curating this year’s Meltdown Festival, including playing a couple of gigs himself, but I am away for the whole of that (shame, there are some great gigs in addition to Coleman’s – Charlie Haden’s Liberation Orchestra, The Bad Plus, Han Bennink with Evan Parker), so I decided to catch this show by Martin Speake and Chris Batchelor celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the recording of Coleman’s classic album “The Shape of Jazz To Come”.

This was the second gig I had been to recently celebrating a fiftieth anniversary – back in March I went to Colin Steele’s quintet celebrating Miles Davis’ “Kind of Blue. There was a lot happening in 1959 Mingus Ah Um (a brilliant, wonderful record) was also recorded then (just over fifty years ago – May 12, 1959). Whilst I know Kind of Blue and Mingus Ah Um very well, I am much less familiar with Coleman’s record – I have heard it (and I have seen Coleman play several times, mostly with his electric group Prime Time – a remarkable free jazz dance band. Really..), but I don’t know it.

This quartet – Speake in Coleman’s alto role, Batchelor taking Don Cherry’s trumpet duties – was made up with Calum Gourlay on bass (who I saw at Islay last year) and Gene Calderazzo on drums (he was in Edinburgh with Zoe Rahman a couple of years ago. Gourlay seems to be playing quite a bit in London – he has another gig at the Vortex in a week or so.

It was great music. It is still difficult – even after fifty years of mellowing: it has a spiky, angular, jagged quality; and at times it sounds discordant; it stops and starts (Gourlay and Calderazzo did a great job keeping the rhythms going) – but it also swings – it has a real life to it. The sax and trumpet were excellent – some great solos.

Shame there weren’t more people to hear it!