If those buffs who prefer their jazz on draft rather than in bottles, i.e, live as opposed to on disc, do have to settle for “themed” gigs – and they’re becoming ubiquitous – they could do much worse than accept Blue Note Records as the subject; alas, the salute to Blue Note by the Barford/Stoneman Quintet at the Pizza Express on 29 October was the last in a series held throughout the year.
I have always tended to associate Blue Note with the young Turks coming up in the 50s and 60s – people like Thelonious Monk, Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane, etc but the label was founded back in 1936 when the emphasis was on hot rather than cool or hard bop and was home to the likes of George Lewis, James P. Johnson, Earl Hines et al.
Drummer Joel Barford and organist Noah Stoneman formed their quintet – Harry Greene, tenor, Miles Mindlin, guitar, Alexandra Ridout, trumpet – in 2016 specifically to perform material associated with Blue Note and they are now at a stage where you’d be hard pressed to get a cigarette paper between them, more impressive given that in the temporary absence of Alexandra Ridout they had to bring in a dep in the shape of James Copus and he blended in seamlessly. Not only that, he had to deal with material identified with three masterly trumpeters featured on the Blue Note label – Freddie Hubbard, Donald Byrd and Lee Morgan and numbers like Sidewinder, Crisis and Jodo.
If it was slightly unnerving to watch these cats blowing up a storm whilst remaining totally impassive – for all the world like five Buster Keatons with mouths shot full of novocaine and calling to mind the MJQ on their annual tours of the UK in the 50s – it was a gig to remember.
The Barford/Stoneham Quintet: The Blue Note Years. Pizza Express, Dean Street, London W1. Tuesday, 29 October 2019.