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Sam Barnett Quintet

New York - London Suite


by Ian Mann

February 21, 2017


A hugely impressive début from Barnett who convinces in terms of both his compositional maturity and instrumental ability. We seem destined to be hearing a lot more from him.

Sam Barnett Quintet

“New York – London Suite”

(Sam Barnett Music)

The evening of Monday February 27th 2017 at the famous Pizza Express Jazz Club in Dean Street, Soho, London will see the launch of the début album from the remarkable young saxophonist and composer Sam Barnett.

London born Barnett is just sixteen years old and has studied on the Royal Academy of Music’s Junior Jazz programme where his tutors have included saxophonists Tom Challenger, Alex Hitchcock, Jean Toussaint and Julian Arguelles plus flautist Gareth Lockrane. He has also been a member of the National Youth Jazz Orchestra (NYJO) under the tutelage of saxophonist Phil Meadows and of the acclaimed Tomorrow’s Warriors scheme under the guidance of bassist and educator Gary Crosby OBE. Barnett has been playing professional gigs in the UK and Europe since he was fourteen and busking around London since he was twelve. He has also studied on the Global Music Foundation’s jazz programme where his teachers have included saxophonist Perico Sambeat, drummer Stephen Keogh and pianist Bruce Barth.

Undoubtedly a name to watch Barnett has been the recipient of two EMI Sound & music Foundation awards. He is also sponsored by Trevor James Saxophones as their first “Emerging Artist” and plays their Signature Custom model alto and tenor saxes. He also plays piano and EWI (electronic wind instrument) but sticks to the two saxophones for the purpose of this album.

Incredibly the music for the “New York – London Suite” was written when Barnett was just fourteen and was jointly inspired by his first visit to New York and by his experiences living and growing up in London, as the saxophonist explains in his album notes. 

The musicians in Barnett’s quintet are aged between fifteen and twenty and have links to JazzNewBlood, a London based organisation who describe their mission as being “nurturing youth jazz talent”. At the 2016 EFG London Jazz Festival I attended a highly enjoyable JazzNewBlood showcase event at Iklectik Art Lab in Waterloo featuring the bands Triforce, Zenel and Kokoroko.
Barnett’s quintet includes trumpeter Laurence Wilkins and drummer Zoe Pascal, both of the trio Zenel, with the line up completed by pianist Timur Pak and bassist Michele Montolli. The Pizza Express performance will see the third Zenel member, pianist Noah Stoneman, replace Pak while Seth Tackaberry will take over on the bass.

The “New York – London Suite” comprises of five movements and was recorded at saxophonist Derek Nash’s Clowns Pocket Studios in London with Nash himself engineering. As one would expect the album is produced to a highly professional standard and the mix serves the young musicians well, allowing the listener to fully appreciate the precocious talents on display.

Barnett himself says of the album;
“ New York -  London Suite’s pieces are designed to flow and compliment each other as do the two great cities with their different energies of chaos and calm. The album pays homage to the classic jazz albums of the 50’s and 60’s while sounding exciting and fresh. The pieces can be seen as separate pieces in their own right, just as the memories of an inspirational journey are fragmented. This body of work as a whole represents the outcome of my experiences so far”.

He also offers insights into the inspirations behind the individual movements beginning with the New York themed “Morning Shadowplay” which describes “the angular impact of the shadows from the skyscrapers as they fell against the city”. The music is less jagged than that phrase might suggest but it does have a distinctly urban feel and is full of colour and incident. With Montolli and Pascal providing a flexible but propulsive rhythmic drive the piece passes through a number of distinct phases with impressively fluent solos coming from Barnett on alto, Wilkins on trumpet and Pak at the piano. An impressive start. 

Barnett says of the next New York inspired piece “Liberty was written on the Staten Island ferry as we passed the great statue and addresses the new New York in comparison to the old statue”. It’s a more reflective piece than the opener, a ballad featuring the mournful sound of Wilkins’ muted trumpet which combines well with the leader’s smoky tenor and Pascals’s tasteful brush work. There’s also a concise solo from Montollio on melodic double bass. Emotive and evocative this is a wonderfully mature piece of writing for a fourteen year old.

Of the next piece Barnett states; “Maiden Flight shows a journey itself, with a nod to Herbie Hancock, and joins the two sets of pieces together”. Although the debt to Hancock is explicit this is again an impressive piece of work that again features the two horns combining effectively prior to a probing tenor solo from Barnett that finds him totally alone at the mid point, a brave move from such a young musician. The piece also includes a drum feature from Pascal, the young musician who so impressed as part of Zenel at that Festival show at Iklectik.

Having bridged the Atlantic with the impressive “Maiden Flight” Barnett returns to his roots with “London Meditation” which he describes as “a reflective piece representing the city as I have come to understand it”. The performance includes a second melodic bass solo from Montolli, some coolly elegant trumpeting from Wilkins and the thoughtful and lyrical pianism of Pak. The leader impresses with his lithe fluency on alto.

Of the final movement Barnett comments;  “Theme for Hope invites the journey to continue, and leaves the suite open to possibilities of further adventures as well as thinking over memories from early childhood”. It’s another reflective piece and opens with a delightful dialogue between Barnett’s sax and Montolli’s bass with piano and drums subsequently added to the equation as the music gathers impetus and subsequently becomes more incisive.

My review copy of the album also includes a sixth track, a piece not mentioned on either the album sleeve or the accompanying press release. Nevertheless it’s a considerable bonus, a lively Latin tinged piece featuring some scintillating horn interplay and bright soloing from Barnett and Wilkins plus a sparkling piano solo from Pak as Montolli and Pascal provide pleasingly crisp and brisk rhythmic support.

The “New York – London Suite” represents a hugely impressive début from Sam Barnett who convinces in terms of both his compositional maturity and instrumental ability. The album launch event at the Pizza promises to be a highly exciting night and will hopefully prove to be a great success. I’d certainly urge any London based readers of this review to get down there if you can and the album itself is also worthy of a recommendation. One suspects that in Barnett and his colleagues we are most definitely listening to some of the jazz stars of tomorrow. Everybody plays well and the band members impress both individually and collectively.

According to Barnett’s website it seems that he has had an offer to attend the famous Berklee College of Music in Boston so it may well be that he will be crossing the Atlantic once again in the near future. Barnett undoubtedly has both the ‘chops’ and the compositional ability to succeed at Berklee but whatever happens we seem destined to be hearing a lot more from him. 

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