The Lowest Common Denominator (Alan Barnes/ Gilad Atzmon Quintet)
(Bonington Theatre, Nottingham, 14th January 2016. Review by Jeanie Barton)
I was lucky to get a seat at the first appearance of Alan Barnes and Gilad Atzmon’s new collaboration The Lowest Common Denominator at The Bonington Theatre in Nottingham – their popularity was no surprise as the show promised to be packed with powerful playing and personality; their chemistry did not disappoint.
Arriving slightly late because of trouble on the M1, they entered via the fire door next to the stage with the audience already in situ, puffed but in good cheer. The formidable rhythm section were familiar faces from Gilad’s Orient House Ensemble; Frank Harrison on the Steinway, Yaron Stavi on double bass and Asaf Sirkis on drums. Gilad quipped that they were late because they expected Gedling Council to cancel last minute again (which they controversially did to his last Jazz Steps concert, later retracting their objection) so they didn’t set off until after 7pm! Aware that controversy might still hang in the air he seemed reserved and encouraged Alan to do the compering.
Their first number, penned many years previously by Alan was called Fat Cat. Written as a dig at greedy corporation bosses; it showed Gilad to be in the company of another politically impassioned musician. The bebop styled head was shared both in unison and harmony before the form was opened out for exchange and they started to gloriously grapple with each other. Consecutive numbers exercised Gilad’s tenor, alto and soprano saxophones as well as his bass clarinet, Alan lined up his Bb clarinet as well as his alto and baritone saxophones.
Alan generally played more delicately than Gilad employing a breathy tone to contrast his counterpart’s more brassy bursts, he also added percussive texture, firing out staccato reed clicks which showed he was more than a match in strength while standing in a mostly static stance at the mics. Gilad became more and more physical as the music immersed him, swinging his body and instrument while striding the stage occasionally turning his back on the audience to face the trio, encouraging exchanges with them. It was a joy to see the band observe each other’s solos with wide smiles and high-five eyes.
Alan and Gilad shared a host each other’s compositions and at least one piece was written especially; Giladiator by Alan is a nod of admiration to Gilad’s often contentious life as a philosopher and activist (critical of Jewish identity Politics and ID in general). The melody visualises the relentless blows he receives (and gives out) in debates and borrows shapes from his Middle Eastern enthused style – it is an ambitious piece showing Barnes’ chameleon compositional capabilities.
Another stand out number was the standard Alone Together, which melded the horns and trio in an obviously ad hoc performance. The interplay was physicalised more than in other numbers as music stands were ignored. After an extended crescendo of an ending Alan said maybe they should throw away all the arrangements! No doubt the more they play these sets the freedom and experimentation will expand further. The trio were generous and responsive; Yaron Stavi on double bass is the biggest character in the band (literally) and stole many a scene with his friendly bear-like physique and equally massive sound – sometimes bending in a rock and roll style while plucking the strings so hard that, I thought they might break!
It was fascinating to witness the exciting beginning of this professional pairing. Despite Alan and Gilad’s very different backgrounds and approaches, their love of bop and post-bop as well as their mutual respect both professionally and personally makes the collaboration natural – it’s early days but I am sure more co-penned numbers will emerge and a CD will ensue.
Jeanie Barton writes the Nottingham Jazz Diary for the Nottingham Post
The Lowest Common Denominator perform their show for the first time in London at The Spice of Life this Thursday 21st January 7pm-11pm. BOOKINGS
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