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!

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