Tag Archives: Alan Barnes

CD Recommendations: May 2014

Evan Christopher’s Django a la Creole Live! (Fremeaux & Associes) Django a la Creole live sleeve

This international group has a loyal following thanks to its exhilarating fusion of Evan Christopher’s exotic clarinet sound with the Hot Club format of the trio, and invariably provides a five-star live listening experience so it’s no surprise that this CD, a selection of numbers recorded during its autumn 2012 tour, is nigh-on sensational. As ever, Christopher thrills with his dynamic, dramatic soloing and the exciting interplay with the superb lead guitarist David Blenkhorn. While most of the titles feature on the quartet’s previous CDs, there is a handful of new tunes – among them One For the Duke, a sublime take on the Ben Webster-Johnny Hodges number I’d Be There.

The Radio Luxembourg Sessions: The 208 Rhythm Club – Volume 2 (Vocalion)Sandy Brown sleeve 

The 208 Rhythm Club was a half-hour programme broadcast on Radio Luxembourg in the early 1960s and featuring groups promoting new recordings they had made at the Lansdowne Studios, to be issued by EMI’s Columbia subsidiary. This CD comprises two terrific 1961 sessions recently unearthed and presented here unedited and remastered – one by Al Fairweather & Sandy Brown’s All Stars and the other by Humphrey Lyttelton and his Band (featuring Tony Coe and Joe Temperley). Everyone is on top form; the Fairweather-Brown session is a typically uplifting affair, featuring such classic Brown tunes as Glories in the Evening, Harlem Fats and Bimbo, while the Lyttelton one boasts a couple of stunning Ellington numbers.

Scott Hamilton Quartet: Dean Street Nights (Woodville Records) Scott Hamilton Dean Street Nights

Dean Street, as anyone who has ever sought out top-notch jazz in London knows, is the Soho address of the Pizza Express jazz club which, for decades now, has played regular host to the great American tenor saxophonist Scott Hamilton who plays residencies there several times a year. This sensational session was recorded during a final night in his festive season run of early 2012, and it shows the one-time regular fixture on the British touring circuit in magnificent form, blowing up a storm with his longstanding London trio. Highlights include a gorgeous bossa version of Sweet and Lovely (with signature, masterful Hamilton intro), a riotous Jitterbug Waltz and a sublime If I Had You.

Live at Monmartre – Nicolaj Bentzon Trio featuring Winard Harper (Storyville) Live at Montmartre

A versatile Danish pianist, composer and conductor, Nicolaj Bentzon returned to his first love, the classic jazz piano trio, for two dates at Copenhagen’s famous Jazzhus Montmartre club last summer. Given that he’s the latest star of a composing dynasty that stretches back two centuries, it’s no surprise that Bentzon’s ten-tune set includes five original numbers – notably the gentle and classical-flavoured Flyv Fugi, Flyv and Cantilena Elegiaca. His style is exciting, occasionally explosive, and (as the liner notes say) effervescent, with traces here and there of the influence of Oscar Peterson and Erroll Garner.

Lee Wiley: Four Classic Albums Plus (Avid) Lee Wiley

Lee Wiley (1908-1975) is one of the most criminally overlooked jazz singers but she was, and is, one much adored by musicians. Before Ella Fitzgerald recorded her first “songbook” album, the smoky-voiced Wiley had already earned the admiration of Gershwin, Porter and co with her classy, sassy, swinging and sexy interpretations of their songs. The quartet of LPs included here stem from the 1950s and include her sublime and iconic Night in Manhattan, as well as two classic big band/orchestra albums – the glorious West of the Moon, and A Touch of the Blues.

Curtis Stigers: Hooray For Love (Concord Jazz) Curtis Stigers Hooray For Love

Given his recent track record – of dishing up exclusively (as he put it) “sad songs or songs about sex” – you might expect Down With Love to be the title song of a Curtis Stigers album, but the soulful, craggy-voiced singer has clearly turned born-again romantic in the time since his last CD was released, and is spreading the word via a mixture of swinging standards and original numbers which are new but sound as if they’ve been torn from the back pages  of the Great American Songbook. The Gershwins’ Love Is Here To Stay is served up in a particularly tasty sextet arrangement (which evokes the groovy feel of Harry Edison and Jimmy Rowles’s mid-1950s album Sweets) and is a treat to hear, but it’s those catchy new tunes – notably the title track and A Matter of Time – which linger in the mind more than the other classics.

Georgia Mancio & Nigel Price: Come Rain or Come Shine (Roomspin) Georgia Mancio

There’s a cool, classy elegance and balmy feel to this gorgeous new album from the London-based singer Georgia Mancio which – along with the voice, guitar and bass line-up (and one of the song choices) – recall the glorious Julie and Julie is Her Name records made by Julie London in the 1950s. Mancio, however, is no clone and stamps each number with her own style which is less pared-down and more daring than London’s. Her gentle, clear and beguiling voice is for the most part beautifully complemented by Nigel Price’s eloquent guitar, along with Julie Walkington on bass; stand-outs include a sublimely sultry Manha de Carnaval (well, the English language version, A Day in the Life of a Fool), a swinging Gone With the Wind and a breezily romantic Moonlight in Vermont.

Kate Daniels: Atmospherics (Loxford Records) Kate Daniels CD sleeve

Hers may not be the strongest, most arresting or distinctive voice but British singer Kate Daniels has created a strangely compelling collection of songs on this CD; an introduction to a style she intriguingly (and accurately, based on most of the evidence here) describes as “jazz noir”. These are moody, melancholy, midnight-y arrangements featuring such top British musicians as John Etheridge (guitar), John Horler (piano), Graham Pike (trumpet) and Tony Coe (tenor sax), and a voice that lends itself equally well to gently swinging ballads and gut-wrenching chansons.

Warren Vache & Alan Barnes: The Cobbler’s Waltz (Woodville Records)Vache- Barnes

If ever there were two players whose delight in each other’s playing is infectious, it’s the duo of American cornettist Vache and British clarinettist/saxophonist Barnes. Old friends and occasional colleagues, this pair clearly relish opportunities for collaborating – and that certainly shines through on this CD, even before you read Vache’s lively liner notes. More laid-back than their last outing on Woodville, this quintet recording (with top-drawer British rhythm section of John Pearce, Dave Green and Steve Brown) features an inspired mix of off-the-beaten track tunes as well as a couple of insanely catchy original numbers by Vache.

Thelonious Monk: Paris 1969 (Blue Note Records) Thelonious Monk Paris 1969

Also newly available on DVD, this is a rare recording of a late-career concert by the maverick pianist-composer Thelonious Monk (then aged 52) in the company of his longtime collaborator Charlie Rouse on tenor sax, plus a much younger bassist and drummer (17-year-old Paris Wright). Monk may have been past his creative prime, playing tunes he had played umpteen times before, and breaking in a new rhythm section – but this concert is hugely enjoyable and fresh-sounding and it went down a storm with the Parisian audience. Maybe for those of us who aren’t Monk maniacs, the slightly more mellow, older incarnation of the pianist has a particular appeal. Veteran drummer Philly Joe Jones, who had been resident in the French capital for a year, was invited up by Monk to sit in on the closing numbers.

Christine Tobin: A Thousand Kisses Deep (Trail Belle Records) Christine Tobin

Irish singer Tobin introduced the material on this album of Leonard Cohen songs at the inaugural British Vocal Jazz Festival at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe – and the concert was one of the highlights of the event. With her gutsy, powerful voice and unfussy yet passionate style, Tobin turns each song into a vivid story or portrait, and has strong accompaniment from her trio, led by guitarist Phil Robson, which is augmented to include accordion on several tracks – an addition which brings a chanson-y feel to the proceedings.

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CD Recommendations: January 2013

Jazz on Film: Beat, Square & Cool (Moochin About)Jazz on Film CD

The second, stylishly presented, volume of five CDs’ worth of jazz movie soundtracks is, arguably, packed with more treasures than the first – it has a glittering cast of the creme de la creme of jazz. The title may not give much away but this set includes the original soundtrack recordings – all digitally remastered, of course – of eight movies from the period 1953-1961. Some are long-established as classic examples of jazz on film (Paris Blues, I Want to Live etc) but others – such as The Wild One – have tended to be overlooked. And most have been unavailable or hard to come by for the longest time.

Rachael MacFarlane: Hayley Sings (Concord Records) 

Rachael MacFarlane CD

Rachael MacFarlane – for those who, like me, had no idea – is the voice of Hayley in American Dad, the animated sitcom created by her brother (and fellow recently recorded singer) Seth. This lovely album comprises songs that she reckons her alter ego would enjoy singing, and is an unusual mix of pop numbers and standards performed with big band, small jazz combo and – in the case of a couple of the stand-outs, just guitar. MacFarlane has a beautiful, clear, pure voice which is best showcased on the slow, gentle and intimate versions of songs by Carole King, Paul Simon and Judy Collins.

Houston Person: Naturally (HighNote Records)Houston Person - Naturally CD

Soulful, majestic and funky are the best adjectives to describe the super-laidback tenor saxophonist Houston Person, who is now, incredibly given how hip he is, approaching his 78th birthday. This latest CD finds him in top form, in the company of one of his old army buddies, the pianist Cedar Walton, plus Ray Drummond (bass) and Lewis Nash (drums). The ballads – a characteristically majestic My Foolish Heart and the Johnny Hodges/Duke Ellington rarity It Shouldn’t Happen to a Dream especially – are particular standouts.

The Thelonious Monk Quartet: The Complete Columbia Studio Albums Collection (Sony Music)

Thelonious Monk CD

Fans of the maverick pianist and composer Thelonious Monk, who died 30 years ago, in 1982, will rejoice in this attractively presented box set of the six quartet albums he recorded for Columbia between 1962 and 1967. Tenor saxophonist Charlie Rouse is his musical partner in crime on all these albums which include such classics as Monk’s Dream, Criss-Cross and Straight, No Chaser and mark the busiest period in his career which would go into decline in the 1970s.

Diana Krall: Glad Rag Doll (Verve) Diana Krall CD

The Grammy Award-winning Canadian singer and pianist changes direction dramatically with this new album, her first with the producer T Bone Burnett. Rooted in jazz, but blurring the boundaries between various genres, it comprises mainly forgotten pop songs from the 1920s – but with a sprinkling of later tunes, notably the raunchy rock ‘n’ roll number I’m a Little Mixed Up and the country ballad A Wide River – and showvcases her sensual vocals in an occasionally very intimate setting (the exquisite title number is just Krall and Marc Ribot on guitar). Jazz fans will love the laid-back treatment of many of the numbers in the first half of the CD – but there’s something for everyone.

Scenes in the City: The Man Who Never Sleeps (Woodville Records) The Man Who Never Sleeps CD

A sextet which specialises in the repertoire of the late, great bassist and composer Charles Mingus (rather than a tribute band), Scenes in the City was the brainchild of bass player Arnie Somogyi who assembled a top-notch, all-British line-up for this project, including Alan Barnes and Tony Kofi, who are both heard on alto and baritone saxes, and Mark Edwards on piano. A terrific introduction to the music of Mingus, the album features a lovely, atmospheric take on his Lester Young tribute, Goodbye Pork Pie Hat.

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Stan Greig Obituary

The pianist Stan Greig, who has died at the age of 82 following a long illness, was a stalwart of the British jazz scene for 60 years and was known for his boogie-woogie prowess, and his convivial nature. As pianist or drummer (he took up drums, he said, because he was so often confronted by duff pianos on gigs), he played in key bands in the British trad jazz revival movement, among them the groups led by Ken Colyer, Acker Bilk and Humphrey Lyttelton before embarking on a fruitful freelance career in middle age.

Born in Joppa, Edinburgh in 1930, Stanley Mackay Greig was the son of a piano tuner and repairer. At Edinburgh’s Royal High School in the mid-1940s, he formed a band with fellow pupils who, like him, were mad for 1920s jazz. The Royal High School Gang’s front line featured the now-legendary duo of clarinettist Sandy Brown and trumpeter Al Fairweather. It rehearsed in Greig’s living room, and almost immediately began playing gigs. Greig continued to play with Brown and Fairweather after they had all moved to London; their fantastically distinctive album Doctor McJazz is one of the all-time greats.

On leaving school, Greig took up his father’s trade and worked with him until the age of 24 when, as a drummer, he signed up to Ken Colyer’s London-based band. He joined Humphrey Lyttelton just in time to play drums on the 1956 recording session that produced the Top Twenty hit, Bad Penny Blues, but his tenure with Lyttelton was interrupted by the Suez Crisis – he was called up as a reservist – and when he returned, he had to share the drummer role with Eddie Taylor, who had been brought in as his replacement. Greig soon quit to go on tour, as a pianist, with the American gospel singer Brother John Sellers.

Greig spent much of the 1960s on the road as pianist with Acker Bilk’s Paramount Jazz Band which was riding high on the success of their hit Stranger on the Shore. After eight years, he left and spent a year running a coffee shop before emerging as a freelance juggling all sorts of gigs with piano tuning jobs (Mick Jagger was one of his regular clients). In 1975, he formed the London Jazz Big Band, a 16-piece outfit which featured many big names on the London scene, had a devoted following for ten years, and was very much a labour of Greig’s love. (He even built the music stands.)

Multi-instrumentalist Alan Barnes, who worked regularly with Greig when both were in Humphrey Lyttelton’s band in the 1980s, describes the London Jazz Big Band as “one of the most joyous big bands ever”.

Barnes adds: “He was a great spirit to be around and a real driving force in Humph’s band. One of his original boogie compositions had a break in which he would shout out the song title. I can remember his sudden appearance in the pulpit above the band in Peterborough Cathedral yelling ‘Beano Boogie!’ at an amazed congregation.”

The clarinettist Forrie Cairns, who played duo gigs with Greig in the 1970s, recalls: “Stan was a musician totally absorbed in the music all his life, and a pianist who differed from almost all the other good British pianists in his amazing feel for blues and gospel music. He played that style like the black American musicians did.” Which is no doubt why, in the 1980s, he toured Europe with the Harlem Jazz & Blues Band, an otherwise all Afro-American line-up of veterans from the golden era of jazz.

By 2002, the onset of Parkinson’s Disease had begun to hamper Greig’s ability to play. At a benefit concert in his honour that year, he was assisted by Jools Holland, and at a wonderful tribute concert to Sandy Brown at the 2002 Edinburgh Jazz Festival he shared piano duties with his old friend Ralph Laing.

Twice divorced, Greig is survived by his first wife and by their three children.

* Stan Greig, pianist, born August 12, 1930; died November 18, 2012.

First published in The Herald, Saturday December 1

 

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CD Recommendations: June 2012

Martin Taylor & Alan Barnes: Two For the Road (Woodville Records) 

With the right combination of musicians, the duo can be THE most satisfying of jazz line-ups – and this CD is a perfect example. Martin Taylor (guitar) and Alan Barnes (clarinet) have created a beautiful, intimate, album which showcases their rapport and mutual respect and plays out like a series of conversations – some cosy chats, some playful banter and some lively debates. And you don’t have to be a fan of Taylor’s guitar monologues to get a huge kick out of his lovely, warm, lyrical playing on this CD. A joy.

Sonny Stitt: Now!/Salt and Pepper (Impulse! 2-on-1)

Two early 1960s albums from the underrated tenor and alt saxophonist Sonny Stitt appear on this CD. Now! (1963) finds him asserting himself mostly on the tenor, undoubtedly to shake off the Charlie Parker comparisons, but, with his driving, lyrical style and the Bird-like improvisations, the influence is still very evident. On Salt and Pepper (1964), accompanied by an almost identical classy trio (led by pianist Hank Jones), he goes head to head with the tenor man Paul Gonsalves with memorable results.

Harry Allen & Rossano Sportiello: Conversations – The Johnny Burke Songbook (CD Baby.Com/Indys)

An instrumental album paying tribute to a lyricist may seem a bit odd but American tenor saxophonist has a personal connection to Johnny Burke, the writer of such standards as It Could Happen to You, Pennies From Heaven and Like Someone In Love. All of these are included in this lovely CD which finds the eloquent tenor man well-matched with the elegant pianist Sportiello. Their pairing is magic on the ballads especially, and it’s a rare treat to hear some of the seldom played songs Burke co-wrote for Paramount movies as well as such “new” finds as I Wish You Needed Me.

 Nova Scotia Jazz Band with Brian Kellock: The Beale Street Blues (Cside) 

The fourth CD from Scotland’s swinging-est purveyors of hot, Chicago-style, jazz is another wee cracker. This time, the original quartet, headed by cornettist Mike Daly and clarinettist/saxophonist John Burgess, is joined by their regular special guest Brian Kellock on piano – and the results are superb, notably such lesser-played numbers as Shim Me Sha Wabble and That Da Da Strain. Only possible quibble? I’ll Be a Friend With Pleasure is such a pretty, poignant tune, it would be a treat to hear what Daly and Kellock could do with it at a slower speed.

Benny Carter: Four Classic Albums Plus (Avid Jazz) 

The quartet of 1950s/1960 LPs featured on this double CD showcases almost every one of jazz legend Benny Carter’s talents: as composer, arranger, alto saxophonist, tenor saxophonist and trumpeter. These LPs also find him in the top-notch company of the likes of Ben Webster, Andre Previn, Jimmy Rowles, Frank Rosolino and Barney Kessel – all of whom play on the opening album, the terrific Jazz Giant – and Earl Hines. It’s perhaps not essential Carter – but a superb snapshot of the great man in his (very long) middle period.

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Norwich Jazz Party 2012: Assorted Highlights

The Norwich Jazz Party strikes just the right balance between the completely informal, thrown-together, “jam” sets and arranged sets which have a rehearsal and charts and more esoteric material. I love both – and both formats produced some magic last weekend. Such as? Well,  that first track came from the opening night’s jam session. Or try this Drop Me Off in Harlem, which combusted into action so spontaneously that I didn’t even have the camera ready. And, no, that’s not Robert Redford on the soprano sax: it’s Bob Wilber, who, having hit 84, now seems to be rewinding towards his sprightly seventies…Another number which I was delighted to have captured on camera was this funky take on No Moon At All by singer Rebecca Kilgore with Craig Milverton (piano), Harry Allen (tenor sax) and Eddie Erickson (guitar) all featured. Of the sets featuring arrangements, my favourites were undoubtedly the Benny Carter set, led by Ken Peplowski, and Alan Barnes’s Ellington set – of which this sublime Sultry Sunset, featuring the national treasure that is Mr Barnes, was a stand-out.

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Norwich Jazz Party 2012

Aaaarrrgghhh! Where to start? The Norwich Jazz Party has been finished for three days and I’m still processing the music that I heard there. The jazz party format is great fun but it’s also an endurance test for those of us who want to get as much out of the concentrated musical activity as possible – while avoiding turning into zombies. Mind you, by the end of the first afternoon, I was definitely suffering from what saxophonist Alan Barnes diagnosed as “jazz fatigue”. Continuous jazz, with only a two-hour break for dinner and a change of shirt for the sweatier musicians, is the order of the day at one of these events and it’s so intense that it can threaten to sap the fun out of the party – if you don’t take precautions.

This year, I had vowed to take more breaks and try not to fret about what I might miss. I bought a tripod for my camera and planned to leave the photographic equipment doing the work of recording the music so I could nip off for some fresh air/chat/kip. However, the tripod idea didn’t work out – too many heads in the way – so I did sit through just about everything and, in the process, perfected the art of holding the camera still using props.

At least I knew that if my brain switched totally to zombie mode, I wouldn’t have to rely on zombie-penned notes as aide-memoirs later on.  Mind you, watching back some of the videos, I’ve realised that all the numbers I marked as the stand-outs for me at the time are still the stand-outs. So at least I’m consistent…

I’ll be writing a considered overview for Jazzwise magazine but instead of the more detailed reviews I’ve done in the past on this blog, I’m going to let the music do the talking – and throw in comments and observations here and there.  It didn’t help that Marty Grosz wasn’t in attendance this year – I always feel inspired to take notes when he’s throwing gags around the place.

The first clip, above, was the highlight for me of a Benny Carter-themed set on Sunday night, and this next one – with a similar line-up – is from a Coleman Hawkins-inspired session on the same day. More to follow as I get it all uploaded .. 

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Soho Swings

Backstage at Ronnie Scott's with Houston Person (left) and British jazz star Alan Barnes

A trip to London was the only way to ensure that my new year got off on the right foot. Why? Because two of my favourite US tenor saxophonists were playing there, to full houses – a couple of nights apart.

The majestic Houston Person, whose music I’ve only become acquainted with in the last handful of years, wowed a packed Ronnie Scott’s on Monday with his soulful take on such numbers as Who Can I Turn To, Sweet Sucker and Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me.

In, er, person the charismatic Houston P is a man of few words – and it’s the same story when he plays: on the gorgeous ballads Maybe You’ll Be There (which I associate with one of my – and, I suspect, his – favourite singers, Lee Wiley), Too Late Now and Why Did I Choose You? (something of a signature tune for this tenor man), his playing was spare yet eloquent, and always with that soulful streak which often manifested itself in a trademark bluesy phrase. He was accompanied by the house trio, led by pianist James Pierce, and they all seemed to be having a ball in each other’s company.

On Saturday, Scott Hamilton – one of my very first musical loves, back when I got hooked on jazz in my teens – had played the final night of his New Year’s residency at the Pizza Express.

Accompanied by his regular, top-drawer, trio of John Pearce (piano), Dave Green (bass) and Steve Brown (drums), Hamilton – whose conversational drawl offstage is now so endearingly drawn-out that you sometimes wonder if he’ll fall asleep before he finishes his sentence – was in especially relaxed mode during the first set which featured the gorgeous ballad Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most and the most laidback uptempo blues imaginable.

Bizarrely, Hamilton seemed to receive and respond to my telepathic request for the lovely Cole Porter number Dream Dancing, one of my favourite tracks on the  first Scott Hamilton album (Plays Ballads, 1989) I ever owned – and one which I had been humming all day…

I decided not to risk a telepathic communications breakdown in the second set and verbally requested another ballad, If I Love Again, which had been a highlight of the penultimate night of Hamilton’s summer residency. It turned out to be every bit as exquisite second time around.

There seemed to have been a gear change for the second set which was downright sensational; another stand-out being the super-funky Mary Lou Williams number Lonesome Moments which, Hamilton explained, they had “tried out” for the first time a couple of nights previously and had been requested to revisit. Turning to his ace drummer, the laconic tenor man said: “Some misterioso drumming, please” and launched into this catchy and atmospheric new addition to his repertoire.

The icing on an already delightful cake was the reinstatement to the Hamilton programme of another ballad with which he used to end sets: the Duke Ellington tune Tonight I Shall Sleep With a Smile on My Face. He wasn’t the only one…

HOUSTON PERSON, with James Pierce (piano), Sam Burgess (bass) & Shanee Forbes (drums); Ronnie Scott’s, Monday January 9, 2012

I.

Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me

Maybe You’ll Be There

Juicy Lucy

Too Late Now

Only Trust Your Heart

Lester Leaps In

Since I Fell For You

II.

Sweet Sucker

Who Can I Turn To?

Don’t Get Around Much Anymore

Why Did I Choose You?

Sunny

On the Sunny Side of the Street

SCOTT HAMILTON QUARTET, Pizza Express, London, Saturday January 7, 2012

I.

I Just Found Out About Love

Dream Dancing

blues

Jitterbug Waltz

Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most

Sweet Georgia Brown

II.

?

Lonesome Moments

If I Love Again – The Man I Love

Tonight I Shall Sleep With a Smile on My Face

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