07 March 2013

Like reading the paper

Alex described it as like reading the paper. What a good description. We were listening to Dale Barlow playing flute with guitarist Jim Pennell at the Gods. It was an unusual combination of sounds, intimate and tuneful and both lovely and lively at times. The tones were unusual. I rarely hear flute in jazz, and Dale played not just the standard concert / soprano flute, but also the piccolo and alto. And Jim’s guitar was nylons strung and played classical, finger style. But the music was jazz standards and latins, so this was familiar territory. They were well amplified, but they cut through as acoustic tones. The guitar was clear, sharp but not edgy, with a defined and middly nylon twang. I was intrigued by Jim’s fingers, fine and precise, reforming constantly into various contorted chordal shapes or relaxing to make scalar or arpeggiated runs. Jim’s classical fingerstyle allowed range of interweaving roles: a short bass line, then a few beats of chordal accompaniment, then a solo line or a melody or a fill or sequence or turnaround or tritone substitution. All intermingled, a beat or two for one, then a few beats for another. This was an evident tonal exposition of the tune, but neatly expressed with a rich mingling of instrumental roles. Dale’s role was more straightforward: mostly melody and solo, just occasionally a line of counterpoint under one of Jim’s solos. But what wonderful paths he weaves through the changes. It all seemed so inevitable, like reading a paper. Each chord is established on the one then spelt out with tonal clarity and melodic inevitability, although occasionally with some unexpectedness with a flattened note or longer interval to end a phrase. Then sequences of melodic snippets that tonally repeat over the instrument. I was amused to see his manly fingers on the diminutive piccolo, and I was surprised by how pleasantly it sounded in this role. I enjoyed the deeper tones, too, the standard concert flute with its sharper edge and the more corporeal alto. They played tunes from Jobim and the standards repertoire. Triste, Autumn leaves, Bluesette, Alone together. I was taken by Jim’s Venezuelan intro to one tune. He’d studied in South America and had promised it before the gig. Also, a strange entry to another tune that was all Japanese flute and shakuhachi with long, bending tones. There was some great playing here, easy and inevitable (like reading the paper) and just touching on wordly influences. How broad is this thing we call jazz? Some argue there’s no reason to even use the term these days, but whatever you call it, the music’s great. Dale Barlow (flutes) and Jim Pennell (guitar) performed at the Gods.

BTW, Dale ended by telling us he’ll be playing with Herbie Hancock and other Jazz Messenger alumni in Istanbul on International Jazz Day, 1 April. They are seriously cool connections. Dale Barlow, Jim Pennell

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