Saturday, May 19, 2012

The "Art Trip" (Woodville Records 2012)

Born in England in 1959, Alan Barnes attended the Leeds College of Music, graduating in 1980 after studies on the saxophone, woodwinds, and in arranging.  After playing with a number of orchestras, he recorded his first CD as co-leader with Tommy Whittle in 1985, "Straight Eight" and first as leader  in 1987, "Affiliation."  In 1988 Barnes joined the Humphrey Lyttelton band (through 1992), and during the same period he led the Pizza Express Modern Jazz Sextet (through 1997) with Gerald Presencer and Dave O’Higgins. He has since recorded many times with a wide range of players, such as Warren Vache, Ken Peplowski, David Newton, Harry Allen, Tony Coe, Scott Hamilton, and Greg Abate. With a band with Don Weller,  he recorded a live album "Cannonball", which was awarded album of the year in the 2001 British Jazz Awards. In the same year he received the BBC Jazz Instrumentalist of the Year award, which he won again in 2006.

Alan Barnes Press Photo 1In 2003, Barnes founded the Woodville Records label, on which this latest CD, "The Art Trip" (Woodville 2012)appears. The disc honors the career, writing and recordings of altoist Art Pepper, and Barnes plays exclusively on that saxophone, along with Craig Milverton on piano, Al Swainger on bass, and Nick Millward on drums. Barnes out front of this rhytmn section is the focus of this recording, and he lives up to his honoree's memory on thirteen terrific melodies. However, Al Swainger on bass has some particularly audacious solos, as heard for example on "Straight Life" and "Las Curevas de Mario", and sets a great underpinning for the music along with the swinging Millward on drums. As befits Pepper, Barnes has taken songs from Pepper's early and late periods, emphasizing the upbeat and free play of his early triumphs along with the more moody, expressive play of his later years after his long years of drug and alcohol addiction. As Barnes says in his notes: "Art's compositions should be part of any jazz study syllabus. The up-tempo numbers are very witty, articulate and hip, often based on the chord sequences of standards. His ballads arae always beautiful vehicles for expression while his laating and groove tunes are timeless..." 

Alan Barnes has created a great set of songs that stand out as wonderful examples of Pepper's writing and playing style without being slavish to the sound. Barnes uses a nice, full and round tone throughout, while his bandmates find plenty of space to provide their own solos.

Birds Of A FeatherBarnes is a terrific listen. Once you get to know him, you can try some other fine CDs -- "Hi-Ya"(Woodville 2010), with Scott Hamilton on tenor is a tribute to the music of Johnny Hodges; and "Birds of a Feather" (Woodville 2007) with Greg Abate are two in my collection that I enjoy regularly.

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