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Brian Barlow's classic big band arrangements are a big hit

There were many smiles during and after the Carleton University Faculty Big Band Concert ©Brett Delmage, 2015

The Jazz Camp Faculty Big Band, led by Brian Barlow
Carleton University Jazz Camp
Kailash Mital Theatre, Carleton University
Friday, August 7, 2015 – 7 p.m.

View photos of this concert

If you closed your eyes, it felt like a 50s ballroom in Harlem. You could almost see dancers gliding and swinging across the floor to the energetic music.

With Brian Barlow in command, the Carleton University Jazz Camp Faculty Big Band played classic big band music Friday night, and particularly favourites by Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn. There were lots of smiles on stage, and many listeners swaying to the music in the audience.

For more than 15 years, Barlow was the percussionist in Rob McConnell's Boss Brass, and that's only part of his decades of experience performing in and arranging for big bands. He currently leads his own big band, for which he originally wrote the arrangements featured at this concert.

Barlow's drum kit was centre-stage, and the show began emphatically with his hard-edged drum solo, before resolving into the sultry sounds of “Caravan”, made famous by Ellington's orchestra. It was a forceful interpretation, with lots of brass, and featuring extended solos by Mark Ferguson on trombone and Luis Deniz on alto sax.

It was music very much in the tradition, and with lots of room for reinterpretation and individual stand-out solos. Student Steffan Bello opened “In a Mellow Tone” with a powerful tenor line, followed by Kevin Turcotte's nuanced and muted trumpet solo, sweetly outlining the melody.

The velvety sound of “Mood Indigo” was enhanced by Petr Cancura on subdued clarinet, and a quiet trombone solo with a bluesy edge from Ferguson. George Gershwin's “Strike Up the Band” moved from full-bodied to delicate to back again, with Mike Tremblay's soprano sax solo floating over the rest of the band.

“The Sidewinder”, a surprise 60s pop hit by jazz trumpeter Lee Morgan, was a call-and-response number, with funky undertones. It featured a strong, clear trumpet solo from Turcotte and a rare appearance by John Geggie on electric, instead of acoustic, bass. Dave Renaud accented the strong beat on baritone sax.

Three Billy Strayhorn numbers demonstrated that the band could play more hushed music as well as full-out, with Renaud enhancing the sweet, melancholy mood with a deep baritone sax solo in “A Flower is a Lovesome Thing”, and Turcotte adding a lonely and romantic feel on flugelhorn in “Passion Flower”. “Star-Crossed Lovers” (from “Such Sweet Thunder”, the Shakespearean suite that Ellington and Strayhorn wrote for the Stratford Festival) included an evocative trombone solo from Ferguson and a fluid, melodic guitar solo with bright highlights from Roddy Ellias.

This December is the 100th anniversary of the birth of jazz singer Frank Sinatra, and Barlow commemorated Sinatra's role as a big band vocalist with his arrangement of “One for my Baby, and One More for the Road” by Harold Arlen, which he said Sinatra recorded six times. The band gave it a bright, intense treatment with hard, pointillist guitar notes from Ellias and light, clear alto sax lines from Tremblay. The audience greeted the last full fanfare with strong applause.

The band ended the show with a fast paced rendition of Strayhorn's “Take the 'A' Train”, which included train whistle sounds from Cancura and Tremblay on clarinet. Turcotte upped the energy with a note-popping solo, and Cancura added sinewy tenor sax lines, before the whole band joined in, playing full-out. The audience responded with enthusiastic applause and then a standing ovation. For an encore, Barlow produced a Canadian piece: Oscar Peterson's “Hymn to Freedom”, given a sincere and strongly-felt, but rather brighter than usual, rendition by James McGowan on piano, and ending propulsively with Barlow driving the rhythm on his drumset.

This big band played music to enjoy with your whole body. It was swinging throughout, tunes that just made you long for a partner and a big dance floor. It showed again why big band music can lift you up like nothing else.

    – Alayne McGregor

Set list

  • Caravan / Juan Tizol (made famous by the Duke Ellington Orchestra)
  • In a Mellow Tone / Duke Ellington
  • The Sidewinder / Lee Morgan
  • Mood Indigo / Duke Ellington
  • Strike Up the Band / George Gershwin
  • A Flower is a Lovesome Thing / Billy Strayhorn
  • Passion Flower / Billy Strayhorn
  • The Star-Crossed Lovers / Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn
  • One for my Baby, and One More for the Road / Harold Arlen
  • Take the 'A' Train / Billy Strayhorn
  • (encore) Hymn to Freedom / Oscar Peterson

The Faculty Big Band

Saxophones/Reeds: Petr Cancura, Luis Deniz, Mike Tremblay, Steffan Bello, David Renaud
Trombones: Mark Ferguson, Paul Adjelian, Nigel Bell, Steve Guerin
Trumpets: Kevin Turcotte, Nick Dyson, Nick Cochrane, Chris Lane
Rhythm: Roddy Ellias (guitar), James McGowan (piano), John Geggie (double bass and electric bass), Brian Barlow (drums)

All photos ©Brett Delmage, 2015