|Alan Barnes getting into character for A Jazz Christmas Carol
Peter Bacon finds two good reasons not to say “Bah, humbug”:
Some festive events have ripsnorter written all over them, and the pairing in Royal Birmingham Conservatoire’s Eastside Jazz Club on Thursday evening of saxophonist Alan Barnes’ jazz take on the Charles Dickens Christmas classic with Duke Ellington’s big band adaptation of Tchaikovsky’s similarly seasonal Nutcracker suite promises a perfect mix of class, charm and wit with a dollop of dodgy Christmas jumper action in there for good measure.
A Jazz Christmas Carol is a new suite of pieces, touring for the first time this year, in which the Barnes Octet takes on the Dickensian roles in between brief readings from the novel.
According to the publicity: “A gruff baritone sax plays Scrooge, his lost love Belle is a lyrical alto, his clerk Bob Cratchit a cheery clarinet and Marley’s Ghost walks in the person of a swinging trombone. Just as Scrooge’s ghosts take him on a tour of his life, so the movements of this suite seemed each to have a benevolent presiding ghost, celebrating the spirit of jazz greats past and present.”
The Octet fully deserves to have the adjective “all-star” preceding it: with Alan Barnes (alto saxophone, clarinet and bass clarinet) are Bruce Adams (trumpet), Mark Nightingale (trombone), Robert Fowler (saxophones and clarinet), Karen Sharp (saxophones and clarinet), David Newton (piano), Simon Thorpe (bass) and Clark Tracey (drums).
Conservatoires often favour the arty and new over the mainstream and the tradition, so it is gratifying to see the Birmingham academic establishment’s bespoke jazz club open to a broad stylistic programme.
The Barnes Christmas Carol sounds like it’ll be great fun, but for me it certainly doesn’t overshadow the delight of hearing Duke Ellington’s hugely stylish adaptation of The Nutcracker performed by a bunch of kids – kids, it should swiftly be added, who rise marvellously to the challenge. The RBC Ellington Orchestra’s director, Jeremy Price, seems to have found the knack of conjuring in these young musical minds that distinctive Ellingtonian essence: not only does the band have the classic Ellington sound, it swings like the blazes, too.
The Royal Birmingham Conservatoire Ellington Orchestra plays The Nutcracker at 6.30pm on Thursday 13 December 2018. The Alan Barnes Octet presents A Jazz Christmas Carol at 7.45pm.
Tickets for the Eastside Jazz Club to see and hear both are £23.