LJF 2019: Alan Barnes: Sherlock Holmes Suite (The Sound Of The Baskervilles)

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Alan Barnes at Ipswich Jazz Festival 2019. Photo © John Watson

Seventeen is my new lucky number. On Sunday, 17 November I saw in one day two of the best gigs on my LJF list – one in the afternoon at Crazy Coqs and one, just as good, in the evening at The Other Palace. The matinee featured a quartet and the evening an octet but apart from numbers there was nothing between them.

Composer, arranger and saxophonist Alan Barnes (not necessarily in that order) wrote his Sherlock Holmes Suite several years ago; the subtitle is typical Barnesy humour. He brought in an all-star line-up, several of whom were multi-instrumentalists: Dave Newton, piano, Simon Thorpe, bass and Clark Tracey, drums, all behind a five-piece front line of Martin Shaw, trumpet and flugelhorn, Mark Nightingale, trombone, Mark Crooks, tenor and clarinet, Bob Sydor, tenor, alto and flute, and Alan himself on baritone, tenor, and clarinet. Alan writes not just in sound but also in colour and when all eight were blowing at once they sounded effortlessly like a full-size band.

It’s difficult to think of an opening number more a propos than The Game’s Afoot and given the expansiveness of the ensemble plus solos from Dave, the two Marks, Martin and Alan himself this could just as easily have been called The Game’s A Yard. It was followed by Watson, a slow, dreamy theme yet subtly swinging with it. Alan, who had clearly been frightened by Conan Doyle as a child, punctuated the blowing with anecdotes and, in most cases, actual quotations, some of which were as entertaining as the music, which was not to be sneezed at.

I could talk ad infinitum about this great outfit but, discretion being the best part of deadlines, I’ll confine myself to a list of titles. My favourite by far was Grimpham Mire, but there was also Napoleon Of Crime, The Tiger, The Baker St Irregulars, Watson’s Women, The Sussex Vampire and a great closer, 221B (that gives everyone solos).

John Billet, who produces these shows, was blown away by the artistry and declared his intention to bring this octet back within the year. If he does, I’ll be there with bells on.

Alan Barnes: Sherlock Holmes Suite (The Sound Of The Baskervilles), The Other Palace, Palace St, London, SW1E 5JA, 17 November 2019 as part of the EFG London Jazz Festival