REVIEW: Alan Barnes Sextet + Ken Peplowski at Phyllis Court, Henley-on-Thames

Ken Peplowski and Alan Barnes on  tour in 2010
Photo courtesy of Lance Liddle / bebop spoken here

Alan Barnes Sextet with special guest Ken Peplowski
Phyllis Court Club, Henley-on-Thames. 10th May 2015. Review by Peter Vacher)

Phyllis Court is a capacious private members’ club set in sylvan surroundings at the river’s edge. An idyllic spot for Pimm’s, the regatta and the contemplation of the finer things in life, you might say. And for jazz, as it turns out. In among its many interest groups, there is a thriving jazz appreciation section with a proven track record of top-flight jazz presentations, the latest being this crowd-pleasing Alan Barnes Sextet, with the added bonus of star guest Ken Peplowski, whose latest British tour was winding to its end.

As is the way of things, this impromptu ensemble kicked off with Strike Up The Band and promptly began getting in each other’s way, this resolved when each player soloed, that’s Peplowski on clarinet, Barnes on baritone, trombonist Adrian Fry and tenorist Robert Fowler, the result order from chaos. Add in the snap, crackle and zip from drummer Steve Brown, the bounding bass of Andy Cleyndert and the witty pianisms of Dave Newton and things seemed set fair. And so they were.

Just Squeeze Me felt good, relaxed and focussed, with Fowler taking the honours and then came a session highlight, with KP and AB , minus the others, playing Al Cohn’s The Jazz Line, a pumping blues that elicited warm tenor sounds from Peplowksi and Barnes slipping and sliding on alto, as Newton found his own enigmatic entrances and exits. Peerless music.

Happily, thereafter this was the order of the night, solid ensemble performances balanced by breakout groups. How about the three clarinets of Peplowski, Barnes and Fowler on Mood Indigo, with Cleyndert’s magisterial bass notes and Newton invariably finding the perfect fill? Or Peplowski alone, and sublime on clarinet, with In A Sentimental Mood or Fowler and Fry tackling The Nearness of You? Good too to hear the likes of Strayhorn’s jaunty Johnny Come Lately played with grace and fervour, Barnes booting on baritone as KP and RF traded tenor messages. The final ‘A Train’ taken at pace and finishing with a flourish, said it all.

Quality jazz and a great night for all, especially Phyllis Court Jazz.

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