CD review

Alan Barnes – + Eleven

Alan Barnes – + Eleven
(Woodville Records WVCD151 – CD review by Mark McKergow)

Reeds maestro Alan Barnes celebrates his 60th birthday in vintage style with this collection of tunes from his birth year, 1959, in large-group format with new arrangements by trombonist Mark Nightingale. The results are a perfect celebration – joyous, varied and of the highest quality.

Alan Barnes has had a long, hard-working and successful career as one of the structural supports of the British jazz scene. The youngish whippersnapper in his early 30s I recently reviewed here as part of the Mike Westbrook Orchestra’s Catania recordings from 1992 is turning 60, and happily shows no signs of slowing down. He has elected to celebrate this particular milestone by pinching an idea from Art Pepper, whose big-band album + Eleven focused the American’s reed playing onto some classic post-war tunes with snappy arrangements from Marty Paich.

Like Pepper, Barnes is an alto saxophonist plus – he doubles on baritone, clarinet and bass clarinet, and all are featured here, along with an eleven-piece band. Unlike Pepper, Barnes takes the + Eleven idea even further. There are exactly 11 tunes (rather than Pepper’s 12) and each tune is, like Barnes, exactly 60 years old. Fortunately, 1959 was a really classic year for jazz albums (Mingus Ah Um, Kind Of Blue, Time Out, Giant Steps…) and so there are plenty of great tunes to choose from.

The 11 tracks chosen here show great variety, from the pounding rhythms of Charles Mingus’ Boogie Stop Shuffle and Thelonious Monk’s Little Rootie Tootie (with space for a super tenor saxophone solo from Andy Panayi) to the swinging Jobim bossa A Felicidade with catchy counterpoint arranging) and late night New York vibe of Randy Weston’s Hi-Fly (with suitably flowing Mark Nightingale trombone solo and nods in the arrangement to Ellington’s I’m Beginning To See The Light. Take Five is given an outing too, with a delicate arrangement that makes us surprised that it’s not Paul Desmond who starts the alto solo.

Barnes takes a solo on each track – it’s his party and he’ll play if he wants to. There are ballads too – the gorgeous arrangement of John Coltrane’s Naima stands out, with a well-constructed trumpet solo from James Copus alongside Barnes’ alto and plenty of interest in the ensemble sections. Every member of the group is featured at some point, with extended versions of Gerry Mulligan’s As Catch Can and Horace Silver’s Blowing The Blues Away offering welcome blowing space with bouncing sparkly backing.

This is a really superb album, rethinking classic tunes, great new arrangements, top-class soloing. And holding it all together is Alan Barnes – many happy returns, vamps, riffs and gigs!

Alan Barnes + Eleven are

Alan Barnes (alto and baritone saxophones, clarinet and bass clarinet)

Pat White (trumpet)

James Copus (trumpet and flugelhorn)

Mark Nightingale (trombone)

Gordon Campbell (trombone)

Howard McGill (alto sax and clarinet)

Robert Fowler (tenor sax, clarinet and bass clarinet)

Andy Panayi (tenor sax, flute and clarinet)

Mick Foster (baritone sax and bass clarinet)

Robin Aspland (piano)

Sam Burgess (bass)

Matt Skelton (drums)

LINK: Preview of the music on the Woodville Records website 

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