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My programme notes were right on the mark! Alan Barnes and John Horler produced over two hours of lovely music and they and the audience had loads of fun in the process.
Playing as a duo is no easy option. To start with, it’s very hard work for the musicians, which is one of the reasons we have two intervals for duos. Clearly the two musicians need to have a particularly good understanding and to concentrate even harder than in other jazz formats. The demands on the audience are also greater, particularly when listening to such cerebral and complex music. Helped by the variety afforded by Alan playing three instruments - alto and baritone saxes plus clarinet – Alan and John quickly seized the attention of the majority of the audience and never lost it.
At the heart of the duo’s success is the chemistry between the two men. Alan has a brash, easy-going good humour. He mischievously claimed to treat his ‘accompanist’ as an equal but only once allowed him the last word in their verbal exchanges. John is a gentle, witty man, enjoying a laugh, and very passionate about his music, but he can be prone to irritability when things go wrong. And sadly they did. His delight at finding our splendid, shiny, almost brand new piano subsided when he discovered that it was out of tune. This should never have happened. The club is on a learning curve and will be taking steps to avoid a repetition.
Here are a few of my personal highlights of the evening:
♫ I’d been listening regularly to Alan and John’s album in the week before the gig and it was great to hear so much improvisation in the live performance.
♫ I especially enjoyed the jazz standards by some of my favourite jazz composers: Steeplechase by Charlie Parker; Straight No Chaser by Thelonious Monk; Line For Lyons by Gerry Mulligan; and Stablemates by Benny Golson.
♫ Alan explained that Stablemates is the title of the duo’s CD – one of many plugs during the evening – and added wryly that his wife had commented, ‘For you two it should be called Unstablemates’.
♫ The range of the music they played. This is illustrated by some of the compositions: Princess, John Dankworth’s tribute to Chick Corea; The Hawk, Alan’s tribute to Coleman Hawkins; John Horler’s One for Clifford (based on the chord structure of Clifford Brown’s Joyspring but ‘without the tune!’); and the final number of the night, Softly As In The Morning Sunrise, particularly the magnificent improvised introduction with Alan responding to John’s lead.
And finally my favourite verbal exchange of the night:
Alan – I play three instruments.
John - I only need to play one.
Alan – That’s only because your wife’s got a job.