Chris Barber is a jazz musician who has long shown commendable enterprise in his imaginative use of the traditional style. This has been evident from the early “Plays Spencer Williams” LP right up to the recent and successful introduction of rhythm-and-blues numbers into the band’s repertoire.
His latest venture is this album of band ragtime, adapted by Chris from the New Orleans Red-Backed Book of Rags and from sheet music supplied by Bill Russell.
On the whole the undertaking is a success, but not an unqualified one. Ragtime demands a light, correct and crisp beat and the Barber rhythm is just not up to the job. At times (“Swipesy”, “Georgia Camp”, “Bohemia”) they play well enough, with the banjo properly light and/or subdued, but elsewhere the beat becomes noticeably heavy. Eddie Smith’s banjo is, at best, a bearable noise, and Graham Burbidge’s swing-cymbals sound out of place in this setting – ragtime is snare-drum music if ever there was. However, rag tempos do make for relaxation, and the front line play well, with only minor fluffs on arrangements that could not have been easy to navigate – I like particularly the exchanges and unisons between Pat and Monty on “The Favourite’.
Unexpectedly, among the most satisfying tracks are those on which Chris accompanies himself by means of multi-track recording, but these are more jazz-like performances than the others. The best of the band numbers are “The Peach”, “The Entertainer” and “St. George’s” – light, elegant, pretty performances which come close to capturing the essence of ragtime music. “Georgia Camp” is mainly notable for Dick Smith’s bass, pumping away as if, after all these years, he had suddenly lost control. It should happen more often.
Of course, the listener’s reaction largely depends on whether or not he likes ragtime, a music which, correctly played, is a far cry from the surging swing of jazz. Personally, I’m a hot man and no great lover of the idiom. For this reason, I can only vouch that this is a thoroughly pleasant (in the best sense of the word) record.
(a) Swipsey Cakewalk; (b) Bohemia Rag; (a) Elite Syncopations; (b) Cole Smoak; (a) St. George’s Rag (20 min.) – (a) The Peach; (a) The Favorite; (b) Reindeer Rag; (a) The Entertainer; (a) Georgia Cakewalk (20 min.)
(a) Chris Barber (tbn); Pat Halcox (tpt); Monty Sunshine (clt); Eddie Smith (bjo); Dick Smith (bs); Graham Burbidge (d). (b) Chris Barber (tbn, multi-recorded); E. Smith, D. Smith, Burbidge. London. 12 & 25 January, 4 February, 1960.
(Columbia 33 SX1245. 12inLP. 34s. 1½d.)