Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Bruce Barth: Live At Smalls

Bruce Barth (piano)
Live At Smalls (Smalls Jazz Records)
Rudy Royston (drums)
Vincente Archer (bass)

Bruce Barth has been one of my favourite musicians over the last the couple of years. Unlike a few of my other favourite pianists, Barth's style is more relaxed and inviting. In more of a Thelonious Monk or McCoy Tyner mode, this album tends to be highly enjoyable and a good opening for even the newest fan of jazz.

For many of my friends, if Bruce Barth is in town I usually try to drag them to a show. In my opinion, I believe its probably the best and first way to absorb Bruce's music. So when Bruce Barth released Live At Smalls, I was ecstatic.

While he has already released two live recordings (Hope Springs Eternal and Live At The Vanguard as well as Live At The Cafe Del Teatre DVD), Live At Smalls demonstrates Barth's continual growth as a composer, performer and leader. The only unfortunate part to this piece is, I didn't go to this show. Why? Because like an idiot, I didn't check the jazz listings until the following week and then noticed the show had already happened.

The evening opens with the jumpin'  "Oh Yes, I Will", a piece that shows off the fun but efficient character of the trio. Barth's playing is crisp and very upbeat. Both bandmates, Archer and Royston, come together with nice punch. This trio session is much different than the previous live sessions (except Cafe Del Teatre) in that with a parred down group, the pieces become more crystallized and the listener can hone in on specific instruments, notes and mannerisms. On "Sunday", Barth shows signs of his Monk influence with a sharp playful harmonic tapping on the keys and some rolling rhythms.  "Yama" is a somber ballad with the trio sounding lush in unison. Royston's brushes sound exquisite moving in and out of the background. Archer's basslines are also subtle but never secondary to Barth's piano. 

"Looking Up" is soft but delivers a down home Southern vibe that is clever, and joyful. Royston counters Barth's piano with some fierce improvising and later is altered by Archer's solo. Archer bends the notes with some soft touches provided by Royston just underneath. Bruce Barth gives the trio the room to breath throughout this evening but on "Looking Up" everyone shines with their own unique talents.

While there is a considerable amount of bias for this record and artist, I have to tell you Live At Smalls is a killer set that is probably the perfect primer for anyone approaching Bruce Barth's music. I was really upset I missed this show but it's great to have this document of what must have been a stellar evening. Highly Recommended.

The video below is from a live quartet performance. But this track is also featured in trio form on Live At Smalls.

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