THERE can be few better saxophonists currently playing in this country – and for that matter the world – than Gilad Atzmon.
Whether it is alto, soprano or tenor – or two of them simultaneously – Atzmon is able to elicit sounds from the saxophone that few others can achieve. Listen to him and you will soon become entranced by and immersed in his musical wizardry. He is a law unto himself, meandering down unexpected musical avenues before finding his way out of them, but in the process always thrilling the ear with his improvisation.
He is a regular visitor to the 606 Club in London’s Chelsea. Either as a guest saxophonist or with his Orient House Ensemble that seem to have grown accustomed to his eccentric ways.
Yaron Stavi, who has accompanied him on bass for 27 years, can read Atzmon like a book as can Asaf Sirkis on drums. It all makes for entertaining fare. A little self-indulgent on occasion but you can forgive that given Atzmon’s complete mastery of the saxophone.
Atzmon’s latest visit to 606 was to showcase his relatively new album – The Spirit of Trane – which is a homage to the late and great tenor saxophonist John Coltrane. A phenomenal talent who received an underwhelming welcome when he performed in London’s Kilburn and Walthamstow in November 1961 – the only time he came to the capital city.
Coltrane would surely have marvelled at Atzmon’s ability to improvise and innovate on tracks such as Invitation and Naima. He would also have smiled as Atzmon occasionally played his soprano sax into the heart of Tom Hewson’s piano, eliciting a mesmeric echo.
He took us into Scarborough Fair territory at one stage while splintering off into some Yalla style jazz. Into the mix was thrown Secret Love and My Favourite Things (Coltrane recorded his version in 1961). Improvisation par excellence.
With Tom Hewson, an effective late stand in for Frank Harrison, managing rather effectively to complement Altzmon on piano, it made for a great night of music.
Atzmon does not come without baggage. His jokes are notoriously non pc while his political views are too strident for many – he is an Israeli who supports the Palestinian cause.
Indeed, he is currently being sued in the High Court by Gideon Falter, chairman of the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism, over remarks he made on his website.
Is Atzmon controversial? Yes. Is he a saxophonist genius? Absolutely.