Jazz gigs can be a little predictable – sometimes. It’s always a bit dispiriting when a four or five piece scratch band lay all their cards on the table from the off: i.e. tune, solo, solo, solo, solo, tune again, end. When it gets as formulaic as that, it’s no wonder jazz gets a bad press. But when two veterans of the calibre of Alan Barnes and Dave Newton get together the only thing that’s predictable is the quality of the music. Drawing on forty years of experience, tonight’s intimate gig by this talented twosome was nothing short of magical.
A softly swinging ‘I Won’t Dance’ opened proceedings, with Barnes’s raspy alto contrasting with Newton’s Gershwinesque runs. Barnes switched to clarinet for Luiz Bonfa’s bossa nova ‘Gentle Rain’, to which Newton supplied some ethereal piano, before letting his left hand off the leash on the mischievous ‘Cotton Tail’. Given that Barnes hardly paused for breath either, the soulful ‘Tis Autumn’ which followed must have come as some relief, as well enabling him to show off both the brash and sentimental sides of the instrument.
An Alan Barnes original came next: ‘The Sun, The Sea, The Sand and Me’. A bossa nova for alto and piano that had more than a hint of Stan Getz about it. Barnes reached for the baritone for Bill Evans’ ballad ‘My Foolish Heart’, where its big, robust tones combined deliciously with Dave Newton’s restrained pianism. Then it was back to Harlem of the 1920s for Ellington’s ‘The Mooch’ on which Barnes blew his licorice stick and Newton strode around the piano’s low end.
Between times, Alan Barnes kept us entertained with his usual wealth of quips and anecdotes, and these seemed to match the mood of ‘Bernie’s Tune’ which opened the second set. The baritone honks sounded almost almost cartoonish, whilst Newton threw in random musical quotes here, there and everywhere. In contrast, Hank Jones’s ‘Angel Face’ was cast as a sweet ballad for soprano and piano, before a trio of numbers for alto: the boppy ‘Segment’ by Charlie Parker and Art Pepper’s ‘Chili Pepper’, interspersed with Johnny Frego’s tender ballad ‘Detour Ahead’.
Barnesy paid one last trip to the clarinet’s chalumeau register for ‘A Bientot’, before the duo concluded with another lively Duke tune, ‘Drop Me Off In Harlem’.
©2017 Julia Price