Alan Barnes and Gilad Atzmon ‘The Lowest Common Denominator’ CD (Woodville) 4/5

How does the pairing of two saxophonists in Alan Barnes and Gilad Atzmon from different generations and traditions suit you? A seemingly unusual coming together of minds actually results in one of the year’s early and most pleasant surprises with inventive modal, post-bop and warm and tender balladry that results in an extremely cohesive and well-rounded album. Several members of Atzmon’s band are on hand, including the excellent piano chords of Frank Harrison, and contribute greatly to the sound which has something of a mid-1960s feel. Compositions are shared roughly equally with Atzmon contributing three and Barnes the remaining five. One number that immediately stands out is the brooding intensity of the title track which is no less than six minutes of spiritually inspired jazz with a strong modal bassline. This is performed by bassist Yaron Stavi at an achingly slow pace operating a minimalist piano routine and a wonderful horn solo that could either be Barnes on clarinet, or Atzmon on soprano. Shades of Jackie McLean circa 1965 on Blue Note surface on the stunning, ‘Phonus Bolonus’, which has a lovely Latin vamp on piano and in general a waltz-like groove with creative use of drums underneath by Chris Higginbottom. Qualities ballads are another feature of this album with, Sweet pea’, the pick of a strong selection and with an alto solo of distinction from Barnes. Meanwhile, post-bop meets blues hues on, ‘Blip blop’ and there is an expansive workout between drums and soprano saxophone on the uptempo, ‘Giladiator’. In fact, the only downside is the silly cover photo which, perhaps, takes a leaf out of a Tribe Called Quest album from the 1990s, but could have been dispensed with. No indication yet of any UK tour dates. but this surely a band that needs to be recorded in live performance. One of the year’s surprise formations and an early candidate for best British (plus other nationalities) album of the year.

Tim Stenhouse