Barbacana is a UK-based group of interest on a number of levels. Chief among them is the presence of the very busy and talented keyboardist Kit Downes. Along with his namesake progressive jazz trio, Downes has worked in the prestigious company of European greats Django Bates and Julian Arguelles, as well as with American alto legend Lee Konitz. His compositions account for about half of the material on this self-titled debut and demonstrate his multi-genre influences. That said, Barbacana is a very democratic exercise, with multi-reedistand past Downes collaboratorJames Allsopp contributing pieces along with Adrien Dennefeld, who does double duty on guitar and cello.
Barbacana is full of complexity and unusually constructed pieces; two that stress the diversity and intricacy of the music are the opening "Animation" and subsequent "Steam." Respectively beginning with a jumble of saxophone, organ, guitar and some of the "objects" credited to percussionist Sylvain Darrifourcq, the chaos imperceptibly gives way to tranquility. "Steam," on the other hand, begins with a similarly mesmerizing theme before bringing the two-song cycle full circle with its energized conclusion.
Allsopp's somber low register provides a stark contrast to Darrifourcq's march-like beat as "Adobes" opens. The tenor works up to subdued growls and wails before Allsopp supplies a very effective proxy for a bass line. The very brief title track is the first signal of more traditional themes, incorporating a repetitive Latin rhythm into fast-paced improvisation. "For no raisin" begins with Darrifourcq's slow processional beat, joined by Downes' prepared piano and Allsopp's long fluid lines creating an atmosphere of near inertia. The mood is broken by Dennefeld's single-note blues, sharply punctuating the piece. In stylistic contrast, "Migration-Big BIG shop" is a ten-minute blowout, giving these multi-instrumentalists free rein to improvise.
This bass-less quartet features a multitude of instruments in the hands of top-tier musicians. Within individual pieces the effect is narration from different viewpoints and influences. Barbacana features great concepts and original ideas throughout. Where conventional structures are present, they rarely rely on traditional patterns and the result is that even the most melodic pieces in the collection are bristling with energy. Barbacana is an engaging and entertaining program of avant- garde music; sometimes beautiful, sometimes tenacious and always full of life.
Track Listing: Animation; Steam; Adobes; Barbacana; For no raisin; Migration-Big BIG shop; Outro.
I was first exposed to jazz while working overseas in Africa as a Peace Corps Volunteer. I would listen to the Voice of America on the radio and they had a nightly jazz program on at 10:00pm. I learned a lot about jazz listening to this program. I also had a friend who listened to real jazz by artists like Charles Mingus, Eric Dolphy and Archie Shepp. On my way home from Africa I landed in New York and had the opportunity to see the George Adams/Don Pullen quartet at the Village Vanguard as well as Kenny Barron and Ron Carter at another club, and was in heaven.