Alan Barnes Quartet, 4 June 2021

Alan Barnes–alto + baritone sax/clarinet 

Robin Aspland – piano 

Simon Thorpe – bass 

Alphonso Vitale – drums

The earth is back in its orbit,  Spring is well advanced and the Alan Barnes Quartet plays Wakefield Jazz.  Surely all three are connected…

And what a great pleasure it was to watch and listen to a superb band in fine form. They dived straight into a flurry of up-tempo numbers, with Alan channelling Charlie Parker, Cannonball Adderley and other Blue Note luminaries but with an attack all his own. Somehow, he still found opportunities (and breath) for clever inversions and embellishments. Not even a band as accomplished as this could take these numbers in their stride.

Alan found time in the first set to give his baritone and clarinet an airing, but the gem of the first half was the ballad, ‘Spring can really hang you up the most’—the kind of number that might generally bring a tenor to the fore. But Alan’s exquisite phrasing brought out all of the song’s tender poignancy. The other outstanding ballad, in the second set, was a lesser known Ellington number played on baritone. Here, pianist Robin Aspland gave us a particularly fine display of his sensitivity and control as an accompanist. Throughout much of the rest of the performance, though, he played at full tilt, cleanly articulated even at a brisk pace and investing every solo with rhythmic as well as harmonic invention.

Simon Thorpe—no stranger to Wakefield Jazz—was on fine form. As always, it’s one thing to play the changes, but another to have a superb ear for melody and to invest solos with creative invention. Alphonso Vitale’s role was pivotal, because a good measure of the power of these performances depended on precision as much as melodic invention. His playing was in turns discrete, supportive and exciting. You didn’t have to wait for a solo to see the complex musicianship required of a very good jazz drummer.

The second set featured Baritone principally, but we were still treated to another clarinet number; and the encore was what encores usually are—this one on alto. Oh for a third set from a band which is itself a fine-tuned instrument!

Thank you, gentlemen.

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