All Stars they're labeled, and All Stars they are. Saxophonist Alan Barnes leads eight of Great Britain's most accomplished post bop musicians through their paces on the Marbella Jazz Suite, a series of scenic sketches drawn by Barnes to honor the Spanish city where he and the band performed at the Marbella Jazz Festival in May, 2004.
Believe it or not, every song on the albumeven "Freddie Green alludes to some aspect of the city of Marbella, the festival, or Spanish culture (complete details are supplied in the liner notes). The Spanish influence, while within reach, is subtle, as Barnes and his mates concentrate for the most part on presenting high-quality straight-ahead jazz, which is what they do best. Using Barnes' zestful compositions as an unyielding framework, everyone is loose and swinging, with sharp ensemble work and inspired solos the order of the day.
Highlights? I could cite every number, which would be simplistic but nonetheless close to the truth, as each song has its own explicit charm, while the soloists bend to the task with unflagging enthusiasm. They don't come much better than Barnes, trombonist Mark Nightingale, or trumpeters Bruce Adams and Simon Gardner. Tenor Alex Garnett, the youngster on the front line, is following in the footsteps of his dad, the well-known saxophonist Willie Garnett, and pianist John Donaldson, back in the UK after many years in the States, is a pleasant surprise, comping adroitly and soloing with élan. Bassist Matt Miles and drummer Ralph Salmins keep the rhythmic power plant running on all cylinders.
Garnett and Nightingale are the soloists on the groovy "Serenade to an Anchovy, after which everyone takes a turn or two. "La Faraona, dedicated to singer and film star Lola Flores, is the most overtly "Spanish of the eight numbers, "California Fish Fry has a definite Cannonball Adderley temper, and "Alameda Shuffle" and "Freddie Green could have been torn right out of the Basie book. Barnes' octet cooks with gusto, and the audience at Marbella received full value for its money that evening.
Serenade to an Anchovy; Dama de Noche; La Faraona; Joe Church Blues; Orange Square
Dance; Alameda Shuffle; California Fish Fry; What
Alan Barnes: alto saxophone, clarinet, flute; Bruce Adams: trumpet; Simon Gardner:
trumpet, flugelhorn; Alex Garnett: tenor saxophone; Mark Nightingale: trombone; John
Donaldson: piano; Matt Miles: bass; Ralph Salmins: drums.
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