Gilad Atzmon With Strings
at Ronnie Scott's, Soho, London W1, Tuesday, 12th July, 2011
Gilad Atzmon has been touring his Gilad Atzmon With Strings project for about two years now, on and off. (The album of this project, In Loving Memory of America, is still selling well and is probably the most beautiful recorded music since the original Charlie Parker With Strings.) You could perhaps be forgiven for thinking that after all this time, it might have become a bit jaded, or even stale. But nothing could be further from the truth! This is Atzmon, after all. The modern-day super-giant of jazz.
Far from growing jaded, Gilad Atzmon With Strings keeps evolving and growing. Just as with any Atzmon gig, you'll never hear exactly the same thing twice. The 'Axeman' as well as ivories genius Frank Harrison never run out of new notes, new chords and harmonies in their often fierce and fiercely inventive improvs. And bass giant Yaron Stavi and prodigious traps talent Eddie Hick don't slack behind in their solos either, to be sure.
All this is, of course, set against the gorgeous, lush, though not excessively so, string arrangements of Ros Stephen, normally the leader of The Sigamos String Quartet. However, due to her commitments with the Midnight Tango show currently touring the country (and transferring to the West End in January 2012), Ms. Stephen was unable to attend. Thus, the quartet was lead instead by the more than capable Lizzie Ball, leader of several of her own ensembles ranging from classical
through jazz to popular, and of Nigel Kennedy's Orchestra of Life. An astoundingly gifted performer in her own right, Ms. Ball not only fit seamlessly into the Sigamos Quartet but lent the usually glamorous all female quartet some additional youthful glamour including through an elegant dress that seemed to be held up more by youthful confidence and optimism than anything.
Ronnie Scott's was, of course, sold out, and people without reservations had to be turned away at the door. One wouldn't really expect any different for an Atzmon gig, especially so for one of his With Strings ones.
The first set included the standards Everything Happens To Me (the opener), Round Midnight, and If I should Lose You. Atzmon and Harrison let loose with some blistering improvs especially on Round Midnight, the likes of which haven't been heard since Bird himself, set off by the simply gorgeous strings.
The Atzmon originals included kicked off with the recently added The Tide Has Changed from last year's album of the same title. Beautiful though it was, at times the (unamplified) strings sadly became inaudible here.
The closer of the first set came in the shape of the Atzmon original Refuge (from the earlier album of that title). This title was also included on In Loving Memory
Of America, but Tuesday night's performance of it was even more breathtaking than ever.
Ever the charismatic, charming raconteur, the set was of course punctuated by Atzmon's witty, humorous banter, as indeed was to be the second set, after the welcome break from such incredible intensity.
I might add that, in addition to real music, Ronnie Scott's also serves real ale for vital refreshment, at least the bottled variety, and from one of West London's finest and oldest brewers. A positive 'plus' that surely deserves special mention. And, of course, the ever friendly and very hard working staff - a special round of applause is due them, surely.
The brief interval over, the second set of Gilad Atzmon With Strings got under way. No let up here as usual, with Atzmon and the OHE consistently upping the ante further with another vivacious set of almost unbearable intensity and beauty.
The standards here included the achingly beautiful What Is This Thing? Called Love?, as Atzmon wittily and with emphasis introduced it, and April In Paris. But Atzmon is never a mere Bird imitator, and never has been. His personal stamp of individuality always comes through with decisiveness, even on the most Bird-like interpretations.
The Atzmon originals shone especially bright with musik, essentially an elegant tango, again included on the album In Loving Memory of America and originally the title track of Atzmon & The OHE's 2004 album. This track could have been written with the much later project in mind and provides a complete and perfect match to the
standards. Its performance on Tuesday night was nothing short of spectacular and out of this world, with particularly outstanding improvs even by their standards by Atzmon and Harrison that left one utterly breathless and in imminent danger of falling off the edge of one's seat.
All round, the soloing on Tuesday night was just extraordinary even by Atzmon & The OHE's standards and reached a new peak. This expressly has to include new drumming phenomenon Eddie Hick, who seems to grow enormously with each performance, and whose subtlety and sensitivity here was, well, just phenomenal.
An encore was compulsory at the end of such an incomparable night's performance, and was duly given in the form of Laura - perhaps the most hauntingly beautiful of the standards.
Gilad Atzmon With Strings is an experience, more than just a gig, and it is an experience you will never forget. Indeed, it is such an overwhelming experience of such beauty that you may find it hard to keep your eyes from moistening.
Most reviewers seem agreed that this most subtle, elegant, and personal homage to Bird is unique and of sublime and supreme beauty, and is something that only Atzmon could have pulled off.
Absolutely. Only Atzmon can play like this. And Bird himself.