I’m told Newton and Barnes shared digs at Leeds College of Music 35 years or more ago, so their duo goes back a long way. It shows. Both are consummate musicians – Newton on piano, Barnes on clarinet and alto and baritone saxes, and this is only enhanced by their deep mutual understanding.
The programme was billed as 100 years of jazz, which was a bit of a stretch – they hardly played anything composed in the last half century. But they did get as far as Bill Evans (Very Early, written very early too, probably around 1950) and Jobim. The latter’s Triste (OK, maybe 1967) evoked Newton’s best solo of the evening, one among many, digging into the rich vein of melancholy underlying the melody with his right hand in the lowest octaves of the keyboard, left up in the middle – a real goosebump moment.
Barnes had plenty of those too, as well as some good jokes. A wonderful clarinet sound on several Ellington tunes, some splendid baritone on Strayhorn’s Lotus Blossom, and plenty of fine boppish alto. Best of all, though, was on a tune they hadn’t rehearsed, but which Newton began toying with when he tried out the St George’s Steinway – a cut above the pianos they sometimes encounter, they emphasised. Herb Ellis’s Detour Ahead (1947), is a great standard which was the title tune of one of Milt Jackson’s better efforts for CTI, and its relative unfamiliarity spurred Barnes to a peak of lyric invention which was worth the price of admission by itself.
So nothing path breaking going on here. Just an evening of wonderful tunes – most of which are on their most recent CD Inside Out – brilliantly performed. A real Christmas cracker to end our year at St George’s and thanks, as ever, to Phil Johnson for all the goodies earlier in the year.
BTW, if you missed them you can catch the duo at the Playhouse Theatre in Cheltenham on Jan 6th and both will appear at the Bristol Jazz and Blues Festival in March – Barnes with Alyn Shipton’s Buck Clayton Legacy band and Newton playing solo.