|Gilad Atzmon at CBSO Centre, January 2011
Photo: Russ Escritt/ Birmingham Jazz
Gilad Atzmon with Strings
(Ronnie Scott’s, 8th February 2012. Review by Chris Parker)
In his latest book, The Wandering Who? A Study of Jewish Identity Politics (Zero Books), Gilad Atzmon attributes his Damascene conversion from ‘Jewish nationalist’ to ‘ordinary human being’ who had ‘left Chosen-ness behind’ to his sudden exposure, as a teenage conscript, to the music of Charlie Parker, specifically the great alto player’s Bird with Strings album, described by Atzmon as ‘an intense, libidinal extravaganza of wit and energy’.
Thirty-odd years on, the Israeli-born saxophonist/clarinettist documented his devotion to Parker, bop and his consequent idealised picture of the country that spawned them in an album, the title of which reveals the depth of his subsequent disillusionment: In Loving Memory of America. The music on this recording takes the jazz-soloist-with-strings format and explores its possibilities, partly via the Parker route (standards in which searing alto improvisations blaze like so many comets across a lush backdrop of shimmering strings) and partly via original compositions ranging from smart tangos to intense personal meditations.
This rich mix also informed this ravishing performance: beginning (as his album does) with the touchingly rueful ‘Everything Happens to Me’, and interspersing other standards (‘If I Should Lose You’, ‘What is This Thing Called Love’, ‘April in Paris’) with heartfelt originals (most memorably his scornful portrait of a recent US president, ‘Burning Bush’), Atzmon delivered nearly two hours of characteristically fierce, committed music, in which his soaring alto and deliciously full-toned clarinet were tellingly set against a jazz rhythm section led by pianist John Turville and a string quartet led by Lizzie Ball (perhaps best
known in the jazz world for her work – both instrumental and vocal – with the folk/jazz outfit Eclectica!).
Driven with bristling energy by drummer Eddie Hick, this was music which, like its 1950 template, was an utterly beguiling mixture of swooning beauty and protean energy, Atzmon’s alternately passionately vigorous and affectingly brooding solos perfectly complemented by his seven musical accomplices, to the obvious delight of a hushed but properly appreciative audience.
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