6 Apr


On these shores, not much is known on the state of the UK jazz scene. Outside of Jamie Cullum, Courtney Pine and the old improvised music guard, the coverage is rather slim not to say nonexistent. The last ten years, however, have been witness to the emergence of a new breed that includes Led Bib, Troyka, trioVD, Get The Blessing, or Polar Bear, to name just a few. These bands all share a new energy that comes from the fact that these musicians have been raised on a diet that probably included as much rock as jazz and brings a nice breath of fresh air.  

The French-British quartet Barbacana is the latest find of Oliver Weinding, owner of the Vortext, one of the prime London jazz clubs, and the mastermind behind Babel Label, a record company that has been for nearly 20 years championing and nurturing a growing slew of burgeoning bands and up-and-coming artists.

The combo’s best known member might be pianist/keyboardist Kit Downes, who is also part of Empirical, a quintet that has garnered some attention in North America in recent years. But the other members have also already built solid resumes, and Barbacana is clearly a collective unit with no real leader even though, at times, James Allsopp’s bass clarinet can become the center of attention.

The band plays on contrasts and combines an in-your-face and angular approach with dreamlike atmospheres (“Animation” or “Outro”) that rely heavily on loops or repetitions. This impression is reinforced by the structure of most pieces, which avoids the head/solo format to offer multipart developments.

More importantly, it provides opportunities for each band member to take on various roles. Drummer Sylvain Darrifourcq, who subscribes to the clunky drum style that Jim Black popularized, can provide frantic and fractured rhythms or act as a steady metronome. Adrien Dennefeld alternates between electric guitar and cello whether he wants to provide some bite – when pitted against Allsopp’s tenor, for instance – or to contribute to a mood. Allsopp, in similar fashion, will favor the saxophone over the clarinet  – and vice versa – depending on what the situation requires. As for Downes, organ, electric keyboards, and prepared piano give him the many tools he needs to build a groove or to emphasize the unpredictable and jagged trajectory the group may choose. Judging by this impressive debut, Barbacana should be an outfit to watch in the future.

– Alain Drouot



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