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Concert Review by Nick Morgan
 
GUY BARKER JAZZ ORCHESTRA
Ronnie Scott’s, London, December 3rd 2007
I can’t really understand what’s going on. I’ve spent the past three days eating nothing but foie gras (or so it feels) and drinking the most astonishing wines (thanks Serge) but now I’m back in London eating pizza. And I have to say that even by pizza standards it isn’t very good. It’s not even my idea.
The Cool Dudes have insisted we accompany them, blue suede shoes and all, to Ronnie Scott’s for some Jazz (and as you know Serge, Jazz isn’t one of my strongest points) and first to Spiga (owned, it turns out, by ex-Mean Fiddler Vince Power’s ubiquitous VPMG) for dinner. And given that this is big business best that I say no more about the pizza, or the service, or the décor, or the wine, or the bill. ‘Nuff not said.
It’s a special night at Ronnie’s – a launch event for Guy Barker’s new CD The Amadeus Project.
Guy Barker
Barker is one of Britain’s leading trumpeters, who for the past few years, partly as a result of an invitation to play at San Diego’s Mainly Mozart Festival, partly due to the prompting of a friend, and thanks to a commission from the BBC, has been experimenting with all things Wolfgang. So the collection comprises on one disc the Amadeus Suite – a series of tunes inspired by characters from Mozart – such as ‘How sweet the breeze’ based on Rosina, the betrayed wife of Count Almaviva in the Marriage of Figaro, and ‘Weeping and wailing’, the manipulative philosopher Don Alfonso from Cosi Fan Tutte.
However the main focus of the CD, and of this evening, is dZf, the story of the Magic Flute retold in a narrative written by crime novelist (and long time friend of Barker) Robert Ryan. It’s Mozart meets Mickey Spillane, a Damon Runyon pastiche of hardboiled Harlem hokey, which is narrated on the disc and tonight, by Brooklyn-born actor Michael Brandon, whom you may remember from his lead role in the 1980s British TV series Dempsey and Makepeace, or perhaps for North Americans that he is the voice of Thomas the Tank Engine. And the story is told against the background of Barker’s score – itself a pastiche of US film and TV crime-noir thrillers. Think the original 1950s and 1960s TV themes of Dragnet combined with the Untouchables and you won’t be too far away from the genre – although you may just want to add a touch of the Bonzos’ ‘I am the big shot’ for good measure. And did I mention that it’s being played for us by the wonderful fifteen-piece Guy Barker Jazz Orchestra who are somehow squeezed onto the tiny stage of Ronnie Scott’s?
I’m a tad too adjacent to Rotherham-born Mark Frost’s (very loud) bass trombone for comfort – this is a man in whose hands a bottle of lager looks like a mere child’s plaything and I note he’s also, when not doing anything better, a member of the world-famous Grimethorpe Colliery Band.
In a row in front of Frosty and the other trombonists – including Burnley-boy Barnaby Dickinson who plays a blistering solo later in the evening, are the saxophonists, with featured soloist Rosario Giuliani (perhaps he should stand for the Presidency of the United States?), Per ‘Texas’ Johansson (whose contra bass clarinet solo on ‘Queen Righteous’ was outstanding), Graeme Blevins on tenor and clarinet, and with his head uncomfortably close to the bumper of Frost’s slide is Phil Todd, who on flute and piccolo provides the Papageno theme for the piece, which (and I’ve said this before, Serge) sounds uncannily like ‘Love be my lady tonight’, but who also plays baritone, and an astonishing tubax. Cool! Amadeus Project
And in addition to Barker’s carefully chosen, beautifully played and mostly (unless I’m mistaken) minor key solos there’s also a three-man horn section including Nathan Bray and Byron Wallen. And just to make up the numbers there’s Jim Watson on keyboards, Phil Donkin on bass, and on drums Ralph Salmins.
It’s a prodigious group of musicians, and the sheer skill, vibrancy and delight of their playing, aided by Barker’s fantastically witty and complex arrangements, is thoroughly engrossing. It’s enough to make me forget that Runyon pastiches are really a bit passé – and that tough guy voice-overs are, or were, left behind with ‘The big shot’. But to be in a tiny space with this group of musicians is just so exhilarating that it almost makes the pizza seem worthwhile. Thanks, Cool Dudes.
- Nick Morgan



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