Atzmon/Barnes Quintet @ The Victory Club

On paper, this pairing of two sax giants seems an unlikely partnership. But the reality of teaming together these two players from opposite ends of the jazz spectrum proves inspired and inspiring.

The first tune tonight, ‘Fat Cat’, was penned by Alan Barnes, and he took the opening solo followed by Gilad Atzmon on alto and John Turville on piano. Barnes’s raspy baritone added weight to the front line as if to reinforce Atzmon’s quip to “make jazz great again”- a topical sideswipe at recent events on the world stage. Gilad’s initial offering, ‘Lowest Common Denominator’, proves to be a bit of a misnomer given its sophistication: Yaron Stavi’s bass intro followed by lines on soprano and clarinet, developing into a slinky sax solo atop an ostinato in the bass.

Atzmon’s quirky ‘Blip Blop’ had confrontation written into the dots on the page. So while Atzmon blasted away in drummer Enzo Zirilli’s face, Barnes and Stavi exchanged snaps, crackles and pops with abandon via their respective instruments. Such variety sustained our concentration as listeners, and maintained interest as the evening wore on. Another example was the ballad ‘Sweet Pea’ on which, after a delicate keyboard introduction, both Atzmon and Barnes tapped into their sensitive sides.

Two altos faced off on an arrangement of ‘Cherokee’ that really motored. Barnes set off at a blistering pace with a solo that had Atzmon roaring his approval from sidelines. Then an equally animated riposte from him saw the entire band drifting into stream-of-consciousness mode – exhilarating stuff!

‘Phonus Bolonus’ by Alan Barnes, a relatively straightforward bebop stretch out punctuated by moments of abstraction, again matched two altos together, though this time in a more relaxed
fashion. However, the format of the composition maintained the element of surprise. For his ‘Pro-State Solution’, Atzmon adopted bass clarinet to Barnes’s regular clarinet, and both drew mellow solos from each other, as well as an ornate offering from pianist John Turville.

Shades of Tad Dameron were evident in ‘Giladiator’, through the pairing of soprano and alto
for the head, with a bass and drum face-off at its heart. The last two tunes went unannounced: first a chilled-out ballad with bass clarinet and clarinet, with the delicious pitter-patter of Zirillli’s cymbals cutting though Stavi’s sonorous bass. Then a final funky workout for alto and soprano with a bassline lifted straight out of Michael Jackson’s catalogue (‘Smooth Criminal’).

©2017 Julia Price