Barry Guy: All This This Here 

Set of compositions by the man better known as an improvising bassist prompts the idea he may rank alongside Duke Ellington et al

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Barry Guy isn’t just an improvising bassist. He remains a striking, under-appreciated composer, whose work crosses contemporary classical and improvised approaches. The title of this outstanding work, for the Blue Shroud Band, comes from Samuel Beckett’s What Is The Word, his last poem and a meditation on language – for Guy, it can be seen as a philosophical understanding of the expansiveness of language.

The composer had written a string quartet for Kronos, with no vocal part, which became the basis of a companion piece for Blue Shroud, with Beckett’s poem presented through vocalist Savina Yannatou. The work also features another late Beckett poem, Brief Dream, plus poems by other writers, in a piece that focuses on the transitory nature of life.

I saw the work’s UK premiere at the 2019 London Jazz Festival. It’s a genuinely European band, with Greek vocalist Savina Yannatou, Spanish pianist Agustí Fernandez, Irish guitarist/composer Benjamin Dwyer and Swedish saxophonist Per “Texas” Johansson. The work mixes genres in a colourful and compelling tapestry, familiar to fans of this composer, and convinces across its multiple genres, that include baroque composition, Spanish inflections, free jazz and big-band jazz styles.

The 20-minute opening Comment Dire (rendered on the CD in lower case) is the longest track and covers all stylistic bases. Vocalist Yannatou ranges from free vocalising to spoken passages. There’s an explosive solo from Benjamin Dwyer on Spanish guitar. When I reviewed the live event, I described Barry Guy as one of the great jazz composers, a definitive line-up being Morton, Ellington, Monk, Evans, Russell, Bley, Guy. I don’t see any reason to change that assessment.


Discography
Comment Dire; Waiting; Time Thing 1; Lysandra; Brief Dream And Two Haiku; Time Thing 2; What Is The Word (71.30)
Guy (b); Savina Yannatou (v); Agusti Fernandez (p); Maya Homburger (vn); Fanny Paccoud (vla); Ben Dwyer (g); Percy Pursglove (t); Torben Snekkestad (ss, ts); Michael Niesemann (as, o); Per Texas Johansson (ts, cl); Julius Gabriel (bars, ss); Marc Unternährer (tu); Lucas Niggli, Ramon Lopez (pc). Porto, nd.
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