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Live Reviews

Jazz Weekend In Old York: Eric Dolphy, Benny Goodman, and Wayne Shorter Revisited

By Published: December 3, 2008
It's curious that the next night sees the crowds diminish slightly, as London reedsman Alan Barnes is the king of mainstream blowing in the UK. His Liquorice Stick All-Sorts is a trio that's primarily dedicated to the music of Benny Goodman, with Barnes concentrating on clarinet for much of the evening. Drummer Paul Clarvis arrives from more adventurous musical quarters, but his range is so broad that he can easily encompass the history of jazz, from 1920s dance band to complete free-forming. In an echo from the previous evening (surely a coincidence), another vibraphonist completes the line-up, with Jim Hart still qualifying as a young Turk on the instrument, even if he's more established than Empirical's Lewis Wright. Although this is a completely contrasting manifestation of jazz, Barnes and company are still negotiating a sensitively arranged complexity, and the Goodman/Dolphy repertoires existed in quite close proximity, in terms of time-periods. This is what made the latter's music so revolutionary, embodied with a quality of freshness that it retains to this day.

Barnes is an excellent comedian too, his between-number remarks relaxing the audience prior to his next fleet run of reed-rippling. Clarvis calls up the drumming style of the old vaudevillian days, reducing his kit to an absolute minimum, clumping his tight-booming bass skin, lashing brushes across his tinny snare and rummaging in his kit-bag for small tambourine, maracas, spoons, and the tiniest can of shaker-beans he can find. Barnes and Clarvis are the jokers, perfectly balanced by Hart's straight-man demeanour. Barnes takes up the alto saxophone for a few tunes, prompting Clarvis to strike louder, using his hard sticks. They're playing completely acoustically (apart from the necessary whirring power needed for the vibraphone), and it turns out that this condition brings out the best of the church-space's acoustic properties.

University of York Jazz Band with Rob Lavers

The weekend's Sunday evening gig draws the smallest gathering, which is not surprising given its low-profile local nature. The newly-formed University Of York Jazz Band is co-led by drummer Simon Roth and pianist Dave Morecroft, who are stand-out personalities within that same institution's big band. Both are also composers, but the evening's programme is dubbed Get Shorter, and is devoted to the works of saxophonist Wayne Shorter ("Juju," "Witch Hunt," etc.). Once again, this is an ambitious body of work to address, but the quintet acquit themselves well, aided by the presence of guesting saxophonist Rob Lavers, who is lately getting noticed outside of York's city walls. Roth has a sly sense of humour, seemingly obsessed with wringing every pun out of Shorter's name. His drum solos aren't as confident at first, but eventually he builds up some thunder to bolster the surging Lavers. Trumpeter Matt Postle also impresses with some crystalline constructions, complex and cutting.

Perhaps by accident, the weekend is dominated by interpretations of great jazz composers. Eric Dolphy, Benny Goodman and Wayne Shorter all receive the necessary attention to detail, but all of their self- appointed spiritual heirs are committed to filtering the old works through their own strong playing personalities. It doesn't feel like a stale nostalgia trip. The works retain their vitality, and their legacies are maintained by a youthful circulation of new blood. Apart from Alan Barnes and Paul Clarvis. But, fortunately, this pair is still blessed with an unstoppable enthusiasm more commonly enjoyed in younger days. Hopefully, Empirical, Jim Hart and the UOYJB will hold onto their own vital fluids well into middle age.

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