Alan Barnes appeared at Stratford Jazz Club (at No.1 Shakespeare Street, Stratford-upon-Avon) a year ago, for organiser Roy Stevens’ final gig. Since then, local musician and teacher Jay Riley has very ably taken the reins, continuing to present a mixture of up-and-coming and established musicians. Unfortunately, the tenure at this venue is ending, the last on 27 January with Gilad Atzmon. A pity as it’s a comfortable place with good acoustics, but as ever, profit targets reign supreme, despite there being no other trade in the place on a wet winter’s night, save those attending the jazz. An old and familiar story.
A full house saw the dependable trio of bassist Tom Hill, Neil Bullock on drums and pianist Paul Sawtell backing Alan Barnes, this time with co-frontman, fellow saxophonist Derek Nash. A lively pairing, musically and in repartee, with amusing asides and anecdotes, appreciated by the audience.
An up-tempo ‘Secret Love’ indicated what was to follow – strong, confident solos and a competent rhythm section. Barnes’ baritone solo was fast and fluent, as ever clipping quotes onto the canvas – ‘It Might As Well Be Spring’ and ‘Bebop’ included, whilst Nash’s alto cut a furrow, hard edged and immediate. Sawtell’s slick piano runs interspersed with effective block chords.
‘I’ll Remember April’ saw the saxophonists swapping instruments to lay a Mulliganesque base with a Latin tinge – rich, agile baritone and light, airy alto. Ellington’s ‘Mood Indigo’ pulled proceedings away from bop, combining Barnes’ deep and velvet clarinet with Nash’s soprano; slow and sensual. Then it was back to sleeves rolled up and no prisoners taken with Hank Mobley’s ‘Soul Station’ – a characteristically muscular tenor from Nash, exuding authority; a forthright and at times wailing alto of Barnes, straight down the line.
The second half started with the Victor Schertzinger composition ‘I Remember You’, another big sounding tenor vehicle for Nash and the opportunity for Barnes to showcase his now trademark fast alto runs. Tom Hill’s lyrical bass solo made even more effective by impromptu fill-ins from the saxes off-stage. Nash’s composition ‘Blue For You’was a slow blues with a dedication to Club Eleven bassist Joe Mundele; Barnes’ breathy baritone making way for Nash’s equally soulful alto which built up to a rasping blues shout before dropping into a mellow lay-off. The Mulligan link resumed with ‘Five Brothers’, after which Barnes produced a clarinet solo of immense beauty, drawing at the emotional heart of Jimmy Van Heusen’s ‘Polkadots and Moonbeams’. Al Cohn’s ‘The Goof and I’ was followed by a double baritone encore of what Barnes refers to as the ‘Cheese Song’ – ‘There is No Greater Love’.
On leaving, several things came to mind apart from the strength and versatility of the front line. Firstly, how well the rhythm section operated; all three not simply dependable (a fine quality in itself) but Hill and Sawtell showing thought and subtlety in their solos, and Bullock flashing around his kit whilst maintaining pulse and momentum, his occasional use of cowbell surely having nothing to do with his name. The club is due to relocate to Stratford Arts House in the town – for details see http://stratfordjazz.org.uk/ as Jay Riley furthers the cause of the music in the provinces – a commendable and hopefully not thankless task.
– Matthew Wright