Review: Laid back excellence at Peterborough Jazz Club

The  Great Northern Hotel
The Great Northern Hotel

Do jazz musicians enjoy advantages that classical musicians don’t have? I found myself asking this question during the Peterborough Jazz Club event at the Great Northern Hotel on Sunday night.

I mean the freedom to dress down when performing, and to chat to each other and to the audience spontaneously and naturally. Not to mention drinking copious draughts out of pint glasses, and even moving about on and off stage during the musical numbers.

All this adds up to a kind of friendly informality which is central to the jazz tradition but which is unknown in more straight-laced music-making. It goes without saying that in this way jazzers immediately eliminate the barriers between performers and audience, which can only be a good thing.

Certainly this was the case at the superb gig given by the Gilad Atzmon and Alan Barnes Quintet. From the very start the players set an agenda of laid back presentation which had the large audience applauding solos, chuckling at the musos’ jokes, and eventually demanding an encore.

As if the excellent atmosphere wasn’t enough there was an ongoing frisson of expectancy about how the very unusual line-up would work in practice. Two top line sax players performing together is a great rarity even in the world of jazz. But when they’re playing six reed instruments between them, the permutations are almost endless!

The evening got off to a thrilling start with Gilad and Alan playing a vigorous triple time tune an octave apart on alto and baritone saxes. I think everyone present relished the rare opportunity to hear the rich, fruity tones of the lower instrument, especially when played with the control and virtuosity that Alan displayed.

Completely different in timbre was when Alan picked up a clarinet and Gilad demonstrated the mellow resonance of the bass-clarinet, sadly neglected as a solo instrument. Yet another combination was when Alan again played clarinet and Gilad played soprano sax.

These instruments have a great deal in common in terms of size, construction and fingering, so that hearing them played together was an education. It turned out that the soprano was much brighter and richer in tone than the ‘clary.’ But having said that it quickly emerged that Alan’s playing was more mellow toned and Gilad’s more brash and brazen, regardless of which instruments they were playing.

With two such dynamic front men it was all too easy to take the splendid rhythm section for granted. But Frank Harrison contributed plenty of exotic chords and thrilling figurations in well-received solos, even though the Yamaha keyboard he was playing was harsh and lacking in tonal variety.

On drums Chris Higginbottom worked creatively and tirelessly with both sticks and brushes. Probably the Cinderella of the outfit, the acoustic bass-player Yaron Stavi had fewer solos and opportunities to shine. But his busy and resilient bass-lines were the foundation on which all of the music was built.

The generous programme included numbers like A Home Together, Phonus Ballonus, Sweet Pea, Wink Wonk, and a scintillating version of What Is This Thing Called Love? On the subject of titles the only slightly unsatisfactory feature of the evening was the unwieldy name of the combo. Here Alan Barnes’s composition with its punning title Giladiator was perhaps a step in the right direction!

Review : Joe Conway