BBC Review - Gilad Atzmon & The Orient House Ensemble Songs of the Metropolis Review

Review of Songs of the Metropolis

A calmer-than-usual concept set from the virtuoso saxophonist.

Martin Longley 2013-01-15

Reedsman Gilad Atzmon is renowned for his virtuoso, high-speed, post-bop attack, and also for his equally hyperactive personality. This concept album explores a highly alternative resting ground, where nearly every song is a ballad, and even the occasionally faster-paced tunes emit an aura of relative calm.

Atzmon’s concept is to dedicate his pieces to individual cities, inevitably conjuring an atmosphere of evocative cinematic suggestion. Although this Israeli wit has long resided in London, that’s one of the obvious cities missing from the tracklisting. Instead, Atzmon skirts from Berlin to Buenos Aires, and from Scarborough to Somewhere in Italy.

Some of his followers might find this album frustratingly reflective, but Atzmon should be commended for changing his pace, and opening up his compositional space. It’s an imaginative side-step, and there are already many other Atzmon recordings that capture his fully accelerated soloing skills.

Romantic introversion is at play on Paris, with a clarinet calm that could have passed through the lips of Acker Bilk. There’s a lounge bar easiness, but no blandness on show. Dappled piano and brushed snare and cymbals maximise the mood. All of this dwells within a big ballroom acoustic sound-space.

Tel Aviv has a loping funk feel, with Atzmon wielding a flighty soprano saxophone. A doomy piano chord opens Buenos Aires, sombre and slow as Atzmon exudes his breathy horn purr. The luminous gossamer of Vienna hangs over a delicately traipsing procession. We’re back in that ballroom again...

Scarborough is a variation on Scarborough Fair, doubtless inspired by that town’s jazz festival. Atzmon has pointedly chosen this as an alternative to London. A steady pulse emerges, and this is one of the album’s brisker tracks. It’s followed by the exceedingly melancholic Moscow, one of the album’s most visual pieces. Berlin only warrants two minutes, but it’s the most compressed spurt of all, a bierkeller sing-along, spiralling almost out of control. This is just a glimpse of the usual Atzmon lunatic ebullience.