Alan Barnes & Andy Panayi’s Sextet salute Cannonball & Coltrane

Like many jazz club attendees, I have heard and seen Alan Barnes in action on many occasions and in a number of varying sizes of band. The thing is, you know what you are going to get with Alan: great straight-ahead jazz played at the highest level with excellent support from the other musicians around him. Friday 9 December, at Chichester Jazz Club was no exception. Of the Sextet playing I have only heard live Andy Barnes and Simon Thorpe so I was very much looking forward to listening to Andy Panayi and Robbie Robson in the front line.

Andy Panayi – tenor, Robbie Robson – trumpet & Alan Barnes – alto
photographed by Michael Parry

The first opened with the very familiar ‘Milestones’, the band played the intro in unison before the front line and pianist John Donaldson took their solo spots before returning to the head. This would set the tone for the evening: familiar tunes well played. ‘Two Bass Hit’ featured a punchy front line over a great drum pattern from Pete Cater before Andy Panayi took the lead on the melody. The transition from tenor to alto sax was seamless and it was only the change in tone that gave any indication that Alan Barnes was now leading and boy did he let rip on this one.

‘Dis Here’ (don’t worry, ‘Dat Dere’ comes later) is a quick tempo jazz waltz with John Donaldson playing the intro. There was a good call and response section between alto and tenor/trumpet before two terrific solo’s from Andy and Alan respectively. This tune was anchored by a repeated phrase from the pianist and even during the bass solo from Simon that refrain was never far away. Cannonball Adderley’s ‘Wabash’ slowed things down a bit and there were some excellent solos from Andy and Robbie as well as a very good trading section between the front line and drummer Pete Cater.

There was a sombre sounding opening to ‘Blue Train’ prior to Andy Panayi taking the lead on the tune’s melody with Alan and Robbie playing a repeating phrase underneath. This switched to Andy and Alan playing the repeat while Robbie blew a very good solo line before the front line dropped out and allowed the rhythm section, led by John Donaldson at the piano, to take over. We were treated to another good bass solo while Pete Cater showed off his skills with a wonderful brushwork drum solo before the band returned to the head and closed out the number. Taking us into the break was ‘Lazy Bird’ with wonderful unison playing, front line solo’s and piano solo before returning to the tune’s opening lines and some delightful counterpoint from the horns. This was a good upbeat number on which to finish the first set.

The second set got underway with Andy Panayi’s arrangement of Coltrane’s ‘Locomotion’ with another terrific alto solo followed by an equally enjoyable trumpet solo with a wonderful tone played so crisply and clean. More from the rhythm section and trades between the front line and drummer before the ensemble returned to the tune’s central theme. ‘ Jive Samba’, described by Alan Barnes as “a semi-aggressive Bossa Nova”, was very well received by the packed audience at Chichester. Alan’s tone on this number was particularly good, as was the sometimes growling trumpet of Robbie Robson, and Andy Panayi sounded very relaxed on the tenor sax.

The Freddie Hubbard number ‘Dear John’ gave us another opportunity to hear how well this front line play in unison before another round of well played solos. The tune was returned to by the group for a few bars and then Pete Cater got to solo whilst John Donaldson maintained the tune’s main theme in the background: great playing! For me, the standout number of an excellent set list was Coltrane’s ‘Naima’. This tune features on Alan’s +Eleven album (if you are not familiar with it do take a listen) and is arranged by Mark Nightingale. Mark rearranged ‘Naima’ again for this sextet and the result is sublime. The tune ebbs and flows, soars and drops across the front line and the tonal variation and colour made for the most beautifully elegant rendition of the tune: simply stunning!

‘Dat Dere’ is a tune I always enjoy hearing and tonight was no exception. The military style section was played with conviction and the way the tune moved between the two saxes was a delight. From there we moved on to the Jerome Kern ballad ‘I’m Old Fashioned’ with its beautiful tenor/piano opening. Andy and Alan took turns playing alongside the rhythm section after which Simon Thorpe strummed his way through another very good bass solo. This was followed by a sublime trumpet solo from Robbie all supported by the pulse set by Pete Cater on the drums. The evening finished with the Sam Jones number ‘Del Sasser’, a joyous romp of a tune that had toes tapping and hands clapping and smiles beaming.

I said at the beginning of this post that you know what you are getting from Alan Barnes and his musical associates in terms of performance and this evening was no different. The set list was well structured, the rapport with the audience lighthearted and informative, and the musicianship first-rate. This is the type of jazz that got me interested in the art form in the first place. So while it may be familiar, the arrangements, particularly ‘Naima’, bring an unfamiliarity that keeps the listener engaged without taking them too far from the comfort zone. This is one of the best sextets I have heard live this year and they were a great way to bring the 2022 part of the 2022/23 Chichester Jazz Club season to a close.

Musicians: Alan Barnes – alto sax; Andy Panayi – tenor sax; Robbie Robson – trumpet; John Donaldson – piano; Simon Thorpe – double bass; Pate Cater – drums.

Set List:

1st Set: 1. Milestones. 2. Two Bass Hit. 3. Jeannine. 4. Dis Here. 5. Wabash. 6. Blue Train. 7. Lazy Bird

2nd Set: 1. Locomotion. 2. Jive Samba. 3. Dear John. 4. Naima. 5. Dat Dere. 6. I’m Old Fashioned 7. Del Sasser.

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