LJF 2019: Barry Guy

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Barry Guy. Photo by Dmitrij Matvejev

The Purcell Room hosted the UK première of Barry Guy’s The Blue Shroud, released on Intakt Records – a really substantial work for 14-piece ensemble, forming a tribute to Picasso’s great anti-war painting from the Spanish Civil War, Guernica. The composition was CD length at around 77 minutes, with the poem Symbols Of Guernica by Irish poet Kerry Hardie providing the structure – she read it at the start of the London performance, while the painting was projected onto the back of the stage.

Guy is a musical force of nature, and – I reckon – one of the great jazz composers, a definitive line-up being: Morton, Ellington, Monk, Evans, Russell, Bley, Guy

The pan-European ensemble featured violinist Maya Homburger, Greek vocalist Savina Yannatou, Spanish pianist Agustí Fernandez, Irish guitarist and composer Benjamin Dwyer and Swedish saxophonist Per “Texas” Johansson. Other members were Fanny Paccoud (viola), Percy Pursglove (trumpet), Michael Niesemann (alto sax/oboe), Torben Snekkestad (soprano/tenor), Julius Gabriel (baritone/soprano), Marc Unternährer (tuba), Ramón López and Lucas Niggli (percussion). Guy directed, and played bass.

It’s a stylistically convincing multi-genre work, with fluid transitions between baroque, Spanish, free jazz and big-band jazz styles. There’s a Spanish inflection through Spanish acoustic guitar, free-jazz squalls, baroque passages that are more than quotation and pastiche, led by Maya Homburger. The vocalist ranges from free vocalising to spoken passages. Torben Snekkestad plays trumpet and soprano sax – and towards the end, both together! It turns out it’s a reed trumpet, and Snekkestad explains by email that this unusual instrument was pioneered by Eddie Harris in the late 60s – on his album Free Speech, as here, it sounded surprisingly close to a conventional trumpet.

Other highlights included an amazing passage with scurrying percussion and strings; a free melée that ended abruptly, dissolving into a liquid, fruity solo tuba with multiphonics; and an explosive solo from Benjamin Dwyer on Spanish guitar. Guy is a musical force of nature, and – I reckon – one of the great jazz composers, a definitive line-up being: Morton, Ellington, Monk, Evans, Russell, Bley, Guy. In fact his influences are broader than jazz, but are mostly jazz-based.

Barry Guy’s The Blue Shroud. Purcell Room, South Bank, London, 16 November 2019 as part of the 2019 EFG London Jazz Festival