If proof were needed how widely Chris is held in high esteem by his fellow musicians, it’s the visitors from the rock world who deliver it. Eric Clapton jams with Chris, Keith Emerson welcomes Chris into his T-Bones, Mark Knopfler plays beautifully with the band, and Van Morrison eclipses the band’s own former vocal star Lonnie Donegan with a trio of performances that count among his best recordings.
Chris Barber’s Jazz Band, which can trace its lineage back to 1949, became a beacon of traditional styles of jazz in the UK. This collection includes some of the early high points, as the band welcomes some of its American heroes into the line-up including ex-Louis Armstrong clarinettists Ed Hall and Joe Darensbourg, legendary trombonists Trummy Young and Eddie Durham. From early in its career, Chris’s band would also welcome blues stars. This collection is particularly rich in terms of the blues connection, with Brownie McGhee remembering highlights of his tour with the band, and examples of Chris’s collaborations with Muddy Waters and James Cotton.
The Barber band toured with many a gospel singer, too, and Professor Alex Bradford hones the band’s singing skills on this collection. There are home-grown blues connections, starting with the band’s own long-term singer Ottilie Patterson, plus Rory Gallagher and Paul Jones. The guests, however, are only part of the story. It’s Chris and his own band of excellent musicians that are at the core of this collection, proving exactly why they are national treasures.
For more than 60 years, Chris Barber has been one of the giants of the British jazz scene. Without compromising his high musical standards or the precision of his trombone playing, he has displayed the ability to adapt to seismic changes in jazz music, earning admiration well beyond these shores. His band has embraced traditional jazz, blues, R&B, skiffle and gospel, and they’re all represented here on this glorious two-CD set.
The title-track tells us a lot about the spirit of this man and his music. It was written by American blues singer Brownie McGhee, whom Barber brought over from America to Europe at his own expense, so that his band could learn more about performing the blues from musicians steeped in the tradition. On his return, McGhee wrote this affectionate song listing the places where they’d played, and the people they met, while in the UK and Europe. As Barber recalls in the liner notes, some names posed a problem for the writers at Smithsonian-Folkways: "They tried to write down exactly what he’d sung… Ottilie (Paterson) was transformed into the blues singer R. B. Patterson!"
Many tracks here are very rare, compilers often eschewing Barber’s commercial recordings for more distinctive performances. Muddy Waters sings the Leiber/Stoller Kansas City taped at the Capital Jazz Festival of 1979; and Trummy Young, a legendary trombonist from the Earl Hines orchestra of 33-37, leads off Georgia on My Mind, recorded on a German tour in 1978. More home-grown are the band’s resident singer Ottilie Patterson performing St Louis Blues as if she were at a wake, the rough recording adding to the atmosphere, and Lonnie Donegan doing his thing with Diggin’ My Potatoes. Ottilie is mesmeric again on Lonesome Road, from a BBC Jazz Club session of 1962.
Other treasures include Joe Darensbourg on clarinet for the sweet ballad Rose Room, innovative guitar playing from Rory Gallagher on Can’t Be Satisfied, Jeff Healey’s paean to Satchmo in Goin’ Up the River, and the sprightly Ken Colyer composition Goin’ Home with Van Morrison on vocals. He’s one of a handful of relatively more contemporary artists, including Andy Fairweather-Low, Eric Clapton, Paul Jones and a supremely relaxed Mark Knopfler, who duet with Barber. Each displays fine versatility and easily conveys their enjoyment in performing with this legendary figure.
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