An Australian bass player transplanted to Paris, Leigh Barker has become the European linchpin of bands like Naomi Uyama’s Handsome Devils and Gordon Webster’s Band. He’s played in many popular dance bands all over Europe, but his own hot jazz band is exceptional.
The double album Paris/Melbourne offers an opportunity to hear the two groups Barker plays with in each city. ‘Paris’ features his French friends, and ‘Melbourne’ his Australian friends. Both bands are exciting, hot and feverish, and both bands feature Barker on bass, and Heather Stewart on vocals and violin. Stewart’s violin is one of the most engaging parts of these recordings, offering a melodic alternative to brass or piano that suggests gypsy or western swing, but sits most comfortably in the swing band setting.
Dancers will find nothing but gold on this album. Songs like Play The Blues And Go and The Pearls bear up to repeated listenings, and would make excellent songs for performances. The combination of ‘live’ and studio recordings across the two discs offers dancers that mix of exciting high energy and more thoughtful engagement that make for great dancing. To tie it all up with a neat little bow, the album art is a pair of paintings by tap dancer Megan Grant.
This is a dance band, but there’s room to sit and listen, too.