Alan Barnes & Dave Newton Quartet






Livestream from The Boileroom, Guildford, Tuesday 12 January 2021
In collaboration with Guildford Jazz

Alan Barnes saxes | Dave Newton piano | Marianne Windham bass | Matt Home drums

Even in the best of times promoting a jazz concert is a risky business. As a seasoned hand once remarked, ‘Running your own airline, football club or jazz club, are the best ways I know of losing money.” So, what would motivate anyone to promote a concert in the middle of a pandemic, the world’s worst health crisis in living memory? Someone, I would suggest, who is either mad, or an individual possessed of such personal qualities, that obstacles are swept aside by a tide of infectious enthusiasm, grit and determination, not to mention a love for the music that transcends the constraints of bureaucracy and perceived wisdom.

We are fortunate beyond belief in that Marianne Windham, the dynamo at the hub of Guildford Jazz, is such an individual and that her vision came to fruition on Tuesday 12 January with the livestreaming of the Alan Barnes & Dave Newton Quartet from the Boileroom, Guildford. In the process she enlisted the help of Berkhamsted Jazz, Chichester Jazz and Jazz in Reading to spread the word, with the result that 356 jazz-starved fans, spread as far afield as Portugal, tuned into the respective devices to enjoy a magnificent evening of jazz.

That said, I endured a faltering start to my first encounter with the world of livestreaming (Did anyone else have a problem locating the minute ‘play’ button?). My patience was repaid by the eventual appearance of Alan Barnes on my PC screen and the exquisite sounds of his alto saxophone. I had of course, missed the introduction, but the tune sounded like an interpretation of Dave Brubeck’s ‘In Your Own Sweet Way’.

As Alan swapped his alto for his clarinet, I settled back to enjoy the gently swinging ‘Estate’, from the pen of the late Bruno Martino, and to ‘embrace’ the new experience of livestreaming. I have to say that it was the nearest thing I can imagine to a live gig. Even allowing for the on-stage social distancing, the atmosphere came close to capturing the late-night intimacy that we like to think inspires great jazz. With no need for the cameras to cut to the audience for their reactions, often so distracting on televised concert performances, you could focus entirely on the musicians. I would like to have seen Marianne on bass and her rhythm partner, drummer Matt Home, favoured with a little more light and sound, but was knocked out by the over-the-shoulder close ups of Dave Newton in action at the piano – a feast, I am sure for afficionados of the instrument. Dave really is an orchestra in his own right; an amazing player with a magic touch, who combines elegance and subtle invention with powerful swing!

Alan’s baritone sax enjoyed its first outing of the evening and filled the Boileroom with its huge sound  on ‘Ellingtonian’ Johnny Hodges’  ‘First Klass’, a tightly-grooved number with the sparkling effervescence of the Swedish  beer it was named after. The wonderfully atmospheric ‘Chelsea Bridge’ paid tribute to, and bore the spirit of two other Ellingtonians, composer Billy Strayhorn and tenor saxophonist Ben Webster, whose breathy solo graced the original recording of the number.

Next up, came the surprise item of the evening – a Dave Newton inspired re-working of the jazz standard ‘Out of Nowhere’. Based around the merest hint of the familiar James Bond theme tune and underpinned by the rich tones of Marianne Windham’s bass, its gentle humour proved to be an absolute delight.

By contrast, switching back to alto, Alan expressed the heartfelt melancholy of ‘Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most’ to great effect, before taking flight on Art Pepper’s scorching ‘Chili Pepper’, complete with a powerhouse drum solo by Matt Home, to bring the gig to a close.

Marianne rounded of the evening with a short Q & A session from a bank of questions submitted by text and email during the course of the evening. We learnt that Alan had been busy writing throughout Lockdown and that his ‘David Copperfield Suite’ was near completion. With Dave Newton assuming the role of Mr Murdstone and Bruce Adams as Mr Micawber, this will be something to look forward to. Dave Newton had been walking his dog and had composed two tunes, while Matt Home had spent time gardening and cooking. When asked, ‘Has Lockdown revealed any positives?’ Matt quickly responded by saying, ‘Yes, I don’t have to fight with the audience to get my drums out at the end of a gig!’

Asked to nominate a musician deserving of wider recognition, Alan replied without hesitation. ‘Mark Nightingale,’ he declared. And what would be the first tune that he would play once we emerge from Lockdown – what else but, ‘Happy Days are Here Again’.

And on that optimistic note, a brilliant evening drew to a close and the musicians could retreat to the bar for a well-deserved pint. All praise to them and Marianne Windham and her technical team for keeping the spirit of jazz alive in these uncertain and troubled times. The audience response spoke for itself in sheer numbers, a few technical glitches to overcome for next time, but otherwise this was truly an event to savour. When’s  the next livestream?.

Review posted here by kind permission of Trevor Bannister