With his band the Orient House Ensemble the band the saxophonist has led and toured hard for a dozen years, Gilad Atzmon is to celebrate his 50th birthday with two nights at the progressive Vortex club in east London on 14-15 June.
Collecting controversy effortlessly, his latest album Songs of the Metropolis recorded at the end of September and beginning of October last year is not though controversial in the slightest, with a theme based around the “sound of the city”, with tracks named after places: Paris, the opener, say. Or Tel Aviv, Buenos Aires, and so on, with one odd exception: the seaside town of Scarborough, “as opposed to London” as Atzmon’s gloss in the notes has it.
Atzmon says: “Now our planet weeps. Beauty is perhaps the last true form of spiritual resistance. The song is there to counter detachment and alienation.” Later in the album booklet there’s a quotation from the David Garrioch 2003 book Sounds of the City that contrasts how the sounds in a city were heard in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries to the way they are heard today. “The evolution of this information system reflects changes in social and political organization and in attitudes towards time and urban space,” Garrioch writes. An “auditory community” is how he also terms it. Atzmon’s ballads-driven album taps into a line of jazz ballad-making that goes way back to at least Sidney Bechet in terms of the saxophone. The quartet on this World Village release, Atzmon with pianist Frank Harrison, bassist Yaron Stavi, and drummer Eddie Hick, meld well to the expressive Atzmon playing style, which for me works best in his take on the traditional ‘Scarborough Fair’ melody (‘Scarborough’), and on the lovely ‘Vienna’. This album is a different view of the city, as urban soundscapes are usually thrusting affairs, radically different in flavour, and a lot grittier and volatile as Atzmon himself usually is. One of Atzmon’s best, alongside Exile and his work with the great Robert Wyatt, particularly For The Ghosts Within. These Vortex appearances coming immediately after the release of such a fine album should be very special indeed. Stephen Graham
Advance tickets from www.vortexjazz.co.uk
The Orient House Ensemble pictured with Eddie Hick, above left, Yaron Stavi, Frank Harrison, and Gilad Atzmon