The Alan Barnes Octet and Josie Moon: A Requiem Nov. 1, 2019

Alan Barnes, saxes
Dean Masser, saxes
Gilad Atzmon, saxes
Sebastiaan de Krom, drums
Dave Green, bass
Mark Nightingale, trombone
Pat McCarthy, guitar
Neil Yates, trumpet
Josie Moon, voice

For some the combination of jazz and poetry in performance immediately invokes the experiments in both forms, separately and together, throughout the 1950s and 60s, culminating perhaps in Stan Tracey’s rendering of Under Milk Wood. For others the prospect of a requiem calls forth centuries of the Christian liturgical tradition—with those of Mozart, Verdi and in our own time, Benjamin Britten as enduring achievements. This creation drew readily from both traditions, with all of the due solemnity of the subject matter—the terrible destructiveness of war—underscored, but ultimately displaced by, the beauty of music.

Josie Moon’s poems traced a narrative sequence that was both historical and thematic. First, they were anchored in the horrors of the first world war, a cataclysm that remains a cultural touchstone a century later, but they also stretched to include the litany of horrors that have beset us in our own lifetimes.  Although the substance of every requiem is grief and mourning, we the living are enjoined to seek the light—and in a shrewd and apt acknowledgement of the Latin mass, ‘light’ was a recurring image throughout the work. Josie’s poetry aims for the heart without being polemical or sentimental. And as Alan Barnes remarked before the start, it is an uncommon poet who can do her prose justice in performance—but here we had a performer worthy of her sterling musical company.

One could scarcely have wished for a stronger line-up of musicians, all of whom played with a finely poised balance of precision and passion. The pieces for octet alone gave fine, impressionistic support to the poetry, giving the suite across both sets a consistency and coherence, maintaining an atmosphere which seemed entirely appropriate for the performance of a requiem on All Souls Day.

There was undoubtedly a programmatic challenge to be faced: how to finish a requiem on a dignified and uplifting note yet allow a band of all-star musicians to show their stuff? An encore could risk taking the edge off the evening. It was cleverly resolved by having the call to life and love answered by the band in the penultimate number—and they certainly answered that injunction, with a wonderful sequence of heart-felt solos. And then, a quiet reprise—a fine end to a truly engaging collaboration.

Civilization versus barbarism, final score 1 : 0 to Civilization.

 

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