Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Bruce Barth

Bruce Barth (piano; b. 1955)

Very accomplished yet unassuming Bruce Barth has developed out a reflective post bop style that is bold as it is subtle. You really get this feeling more when you see him live. Bruce Barth is technically brilliant and highly effective with his compositions and interpretations. I have enjoyed his music for years now. Bruce Barth is one of those under-rated musicians of his generation. If someone doesn't tell you about him or you don't stumble across a live show in your city you may never know about him.

I first discovered him at a live show at the now legendary Smoke Jazz Club in New York City about seven years ago (maybe) not actually realizing years later that I actually met him once with Terence Blanchard as he was the primary piano player in Terrance's band during the early nineties (he also performed on a number soundtracks that Terence scored including Malcolm X). Bruce Barth has recorded 10 albums (and one DVD) as leader. All are quite rewarding and possibly owe a good deal to Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock and than Thelonious Monk and Duke Ellington (although Monk composition appear on quite a few albums).

In addition to working in Terrance Blanchard's band, Barth has also worked with Branford Marsalis, Wynton Marsalis, Joshua Redman, Tony Bennett, Karrin Allyson and Roy Hargrove to name a few. The years of work in Blanchard's group serve Barth well on his first few recordings including Morning Call (Enja), his second album as leader. This is highlighted by a great sextet including Leon Parker (drums), Steve Wilson (sax), Scott Wendholt (trumpet) and Larry Grenadier (bass). Morning Call is awash of Barth originals that show sophistication and beauty that I fell in love with after one listen.

Another standout album for me is the 2002 recording, Live At The Village Vanguard (MaxJazz) which is solid live recording (and the most widely available) mixed with spirited originals and elegant standards. A romantic yet smokin' live session that makes you feel like you're right there in the audience. It jumps, grooves and floats that you almost forget that its only a trio performing on the date.

Bruce Barth's latest album, Home (We'll Always Swing Music) is a live album with longtime colaborator Steve Wilson on saxophone. Home is an intimate performance and you can immediately tell that the two musicians have played with each other for years (since 1987). They are performing in front of just over 60 people at the home of a jazz supporter of the organization We'll Always Swing. Harmonically it might be two instruments but their interplay is so beautiful it sounds like one person. Barth again has written most of material for this evening including the compelling "The Ways Of The West" and rigorous "Blues Interruptus" which highlight Barth's considerable strengths as composer. There are only two standards played during this date, "All Through The Night" and "Sweet And Lovely". Both magnificently done and played with a loose combination of adventure and poetry. Home serves as an nice and long overdue follow up to Live At The Village Vanguard but I'm glad it's arrived.

I have a feeling many of you may not have heard Bruce Barth so I'm hoping I've convinced some of you that he is worth a listen. A good amount of his albums are available for download so that might be the best way to find him. He doesn't tour that often but if you should lookout for his name on the bill at your local jazz club. When he does show up--go. You won't regret it.

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