Tony Kofi/Alan Barnes Quintet - Saturday Evening
Compere host Alan Barnes should have had a second career as a stand-up comedian: ”Thank you...for that luke warm reception” he laughs, his humour now as much a part of this eclectic festival as the many memorable performances he has given on this stage with various ensembles. He’s playing alto sax in this quintet beside fellow alto man Tony Kofi. Together they create an exciting front line duo sound, not one you hear or see that regularly. Barnes and Kofi are quite different sounding players; Kofi's sound is heavier, wilder and more bluesy next to Barnes’s sweeter, lighter sound, but both dazzle as soloists.
It’s a varied set, the stabby intro of Pebble Point leading straight into a bass solo from Adam King, who Barnes claims he met at the age of seven ,"when he was just a pick pocket!”
Pianist John Turville is another joy to listen to and never puts a finger wrong on the ivories. His voicing and sensitivity is perfectly judged, whilst drummer Rod Youngs grins throughout the whole set. This is one of the factors that makes this quintet so enjoyable to watch and listen to. Who says that jazz has to be taken and performed so seriously looking all the time? Not this quintet!
The bossa nova sounds of 'Los Caracoles' are a proving point, written in Spain by Barnes, from his 2003 album 'Swingin’ The Samba', it moves seamlessly into swing, with some delightful unison phrasing from the two altos. Next up is a blues number from Kofi; his sax calls and responds to Barnes, during some electrifying solo sections. Barnes's sax solos fluently in the high register and quacks like a duck, it’s not just his banter which can make a crowd chuckle! Turville strays away at times from the blues on his solo, but is never discordant for too long, just pushing the listener’s ears a little before his fingers touch the bluesy keys once again.
“A friend of a friend once asked, will you write a song for my wife... I thought it was a good swap until I met her!” grins Barnes, introducing the waltz 'Wendi'. Rod Youngs messes expertly with the time in this rather abstract sounding piece, caused by the piano making major use of the sharp 11 chord. How do I know this? Because Alan tells the crowd before the number begins and I wonder if he has read some of my former reviews, as he tells the audience;
“This is for any reviewers in the house as I know they sometimes struggle with what to say!”
'Hoagy' is dedicated to Koffi’s former mentor, tenor player George Carmichael, and it’s a thoughtfully played, slower number, referencing another Carmichael, the great American composer Hoagy Carmichael. Perhaps most famous for his tune 'Stardust', this number doesn’t sound a million miles away in melody or sentiment.
Barnes ends proceedings as humorously as they began: “You’re all retired now, please buy our CD, if you do, me and Tony can take it in turns to share the shoes!” The crowd laughs but, jokes aside, this quintet’s meticulous musicianship makes it all seem so easy, yet they’ve been flawless throughout. The drummer is still grinning ,as are many in the crowd, as he solos superbly in drum feature 'The Last Message', dedicated to the great jazz drummer Art Blakey.
So many textures and sounds from the jazz drummer, it’s a thrilling close to a set which has kept many on their feet or the edge of their seats throughout.