Festival jazz

Bury St Edmunds Festival, Gilad With Strings, Theatre Royal, Thursday, May 15

Bury St Edmunds Festival, Gilad With Strings, Theatre Royal, Thursday, May 15

Dissident Israeli saxophonist Gilad Atzmon has created quite a wave of interest in the UK since he burst on to the jazz scene back in the 1990s.

With seemingly endless energy and virtuosity he has introduced a welcome breath of freshness everywhere he has appeared.

He has, of course, been a regular member of the late Ian Dury's Blockheads and he's recorded and appeared with the likes of Robbie Williams, Sinead O'Connor, Shane McGowan and Paul McCartney and on the jazz scene he's introduced a fusion of straight ahead jazz with world music as well as Balkan, Jewish, and Arabian music.

Now Atzmon has come up with a new venture, Gilad With Strings, that fuses his regular four piece band, the Orient House Ensemble with a string quartet and, on this showing, it works.

This was only the second appearance of the Orient House Ensemble with the Sigamos String Quartet and it was clear that they get along swimmingly.

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A jazz quartet with strings, of course, is nothing new and this show is a tribute to the legendary Charlie Parker who famously recorded a Bird with Strings album that broke the mould of "jazz" back in the early 1950s and propelled Parker to international acclaim.

Some of the original arrangements have been transcribed by Roz Stephens, lead violinist with the Sigamos String Quartet and Atzmon has worked on the jazz elements.

And so we had the likes of Vernon Duke's melodic April in Paris presented in a much similar fashion to Parker's original version, a description at the time regarded it as jazz with a touch of saccharine, and it's an apt appraisal.

The Bury programme opened with an equally sweet interpretation of Everything Happens to Me that showed Atzmon's alto playing at its sweeping and soaring best and a nice solo from Cambridgeshire born pianist Frank Harrison.

That version of April In Paris was included in the programme (Atzmon, with his off the wall wit, introduced it as April in Hartlepool), but there were also numbers that featured Atzmon on clarinet and soprano saxophone in Arabian mood, and his version of Bird in Bahrain and later Tu Tu Tango were masterpieces with Atzmon in such flight that one would not have been surprised to see a snake rise out of the front row or a team of belly dancers emerge from the wings.

The evening was quite a triumph with some nice work from Yaron Stavis on double bass, Asaf Sirkis on drums (particularly on some of the rapidly changing rhythms on those Arabian numbers) and the string quartet (Roz Stephens, Emile Chakaouw, Rachel Roben and Laura Moody) were a pure delight.

Like Stan Tracey's Under Milk Wood Suite and Alan Barnes' Sherlock Holmes Suite this work by Gilad Atzmon is likely to become a landmark on the UK jazz scene. It is due to be recorded in the autumn and I can't wait to get my hands on a copy.

Alan Crumpton

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