Normally in this column I limit the reviews to prebop music, but trumpeter Bruce Adams and altoist-clarinetist Alan Barnes are such versatile musicians that I think these three often-boppish releases from the British Big Bear label will be of interest to the readers of The Syncopated Times.
Bruce Adams, who first heard jazz through a record of Django Reinhardt, began playing trumpet when he was 11, working professionally after just five months. He became a protégé of Nat Gonella’s, and was touring with his father (guitarist Bob Adams) when he was a teenager. Adams worked in his native Glasgow, Scotland, and Edinburgh regularly, appearing with many top swing artists including Dick Hyman, Bob Wilber, Benny Carter, Dave McKenna, and Milt Hinton. He has since performed all throughout Europe.
Adams made his debut as a leader with One Foot In The Gutter which was recorded during 1991-92 when he was already 40. The trumpeter had performed in a wide variety of settings during the past 20 years but had a low profile while working steadily, often outside of jazz. One Foot In The Gutter, a quartet set with pianist John Clarke, bassist Len Skeat, and drummer Bobby Orr, features him in top form, Adams displays the ability to hit powerful high notes (sometimes sounding a little like Maynard Ferguson) while performing material that ranged from Clark Terry (“One Foot In the Gutter”), and bebop (“Scrapple From The Apple”), to ballads (“Darn That Dream,” “What Is There To Say,” and “Portrait Of Jenny”) and swing. It is obvious from some of his ideas that he had listened closely to Louis Armstrong, too.
Alan Barnes, who is from England, is eight years younger than Adams. He worked with the Pasadena Roof Orchestra during 1980-83, played hard bop with Tommy Chase’s group (1983-86), started leading his own record dates in 1987, worked with Humphrey Lyttelton during 1988-92, and has freelanced ever since in settings ranging from swing and trad to big bands and modern straight ahead jazz. He has mastered nearly all of the reeds including clarinet, alto and baritone sax.
During 1993-94, Bruce Adams and Alan Barnes co-led two albums that feature the same personnel with Adams and Barnes (who plays alto and baritone) teamed with pianist Brian Dee, bassist Len Skeat, and drummer Bobby Orr. Both outings are quite fun with the horns consistently inspiring each other; Adams’ impressive work in the upper register is matched by Barnes’ occasional high notes on alto.
Side-Steppin’ includes among its highlights are a surprisingly hot version of “Toot Toot Tootsie,” Sonny Stitt’s “I Got Rhythm”-based “Eternal Triangle,” Barnes’ ballad feature on “The Touch Of Your Lips,” Billy Strayhorn’s “Johnny Come Lately,” and Horace Silver’s “Quicksilver.”
Let’s Face The Music… from late-1994 is on the same high level. While Barnes contributed three originals to Side-Steppin’, he brought in four for Let’s Face The Music… including “Blowin’ With Bruce” and “Rosie B” which has a blend of baritone and trumpet that is worthy of Gerry Mulligan.
Adams is outstanding throughout again, particularly on his showcase, a fresh version of “When It’s Sleepy Down South.” Other memorable performances include “Give a Little Whistle,” Barnes on “The Thrill Is Gone,” Strayhorn’s “Raincheck,” and “Hollywood Stampede” which is Coleman Hawkins’ line on “Sweet Georgia Brown.”
Bruce Adams and Alan Barnes have shared bandstands on an occasional basis since that time, recording a CD together as recently as 2015. Barnes in particular has remained quite active and prolific. Both deserve to be much better known to American trad/swing/bop listeners.
One Foot In The Gutter (Big Bear ESJCD 545, 12 selections, TT = 62:56)
Side-Steppin’ (Big Bear ESJCD 542, 13 selections, TT = 71:59)
Let’s Face The Music (Big Bear ESJCD 547, 12 selections, TT = 68:47)