Alan Barnes has been one of the stars of the British jazz scene for many years, finding recognition both here and on the other side of the Atlantic, recording most recently for the legendary Concord Jazz label. His latest project forms the music on this record, which is the second release on Specific Jazz, and consists of compositions by the great Horace Silver, performed by Alan and his world class quintet. It's an energetic and virtuoso lesson in how to play bebop, the musicians ripping into the famous set of tunes with aplomb and pulling off some of the best soloing you're going to hear on record this year. Alan Barnes' history as a musician is well known, taking in everything from the sax chair on Michael Parkinson's TV show to membership of Tommy Chase's quintet, through to the co-leadership of the Modern Jazz Sextet in the early 90's. A prolific sideman and leader, he has gone on record to say that this album is without doubt the best he has made in his career. Collectively the band have played in the past with Sonny Rollins, Ben Webster, Freddie Hubbard and many others. This is a world class album by a world class set of British jazz musicians and a landmark for this scene that is currently in the rudest of health.
Alan Barnes is usually tagged with the rather unglamorous term 'mainstream'. True, you're unlikely to find him hanging out with Norwegian experimentalists, string quartets or DJs, issuing an album of Radiohead cover versions or rediscovering the joys of punk rock, but there's plenty of other people doing that kind of thing these days...
Like Peter King, Barnes is steeped in the language of bop, but is such a consummate stylist that his playing tends to buck any argument that his musical approac his conservative or out of step with the times. Whether on alto, baritone or tenor, Barnes' melodic sense bypasses the usual scale-running cliches that pepper the playing of lesser bop disciples.
Here Barnes pays tribute to hard bop pianist/composer Horace Silver. Pianist John Donaldson has transcribed all the pieces, which are mainly taken from the classic Blue Note quintet recordings of the early 60s. Donaldson's crisply funky playing is a neat fit with Silver's soulful, airy tunes, but his occasional Tyner-esque splashes take the energy level up a notch. Trumpeter Steve Waterman (an eclectic, technically assured player)takes the Blue Mitchell role with relish. Fat-toned, precise and fiery, he's a perfect foil for the leader.
While there are only two ballads here, they provide Barnes' best moments. Donaldson's lucid, Bill Evans-esque chording inspires a sweetly poignant reading of "Lonely Woman", while the opening of "Peace" features a meltingly gorgeous statement on alto, accompanied only by Dave Green's ever thoughtful bass. One of my favourite musical moments of the year so far, I reckon.
Not that the uptempo numbers are in any way shabby; the band kick up some serious dust at times and of course Barnes enjoys working at speed - check the furious solo on "Finger Poppin'" for details. This is assured,beautifully played jazz. It won't change the world, perhaps, but who cares. --Peter Marsh
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