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Bruce Barth - Somehow It's True

DTRCD - 168

Bruce Barth - Piano; Terell Stafford - Trumpet/Flugelhorn; Adam Kolker - Tenor/Soprano Sax & Alto Clarinet;
Ugonna Okegwo - Bass; Duduka DaFonseca - Percussion; Billy Hart - Drums

1. Criss Cross - T. Monk
2. Tom Tom Thing - Bruce Barth
3. Estate - Bruno Marinio
4. Somehow It's True - Bruce Barth
5. Solitude - Bruce Barth
6. Criss Cross - Bruce Barth
7. Triste - A. C. Jobim
8. Light Blue - T. Monk
9. Criss Cross - Bruce Barth
10. We See - T. Monk
11. Solitude - Bruce Barth
12. Criss Cross - Bruce Barth

Listen to CD Tracks

Excellence has been the rule when Bruce Barth makes music under his own name, so the excellence of this new set - his third for Double Time - will hardly strike anyone who has been following his career as news.  Yet there is a difference in this brilliant flow of solo, trio, quartet and quintet performances, one that indicates greater risk-taking without in any way abandoning the clarity and technical fluency of Barth’s earlier efforts.  Like the most intriguing jazz musicians, Barth is growing more inquisitive and less set in his ways, and his onging evolution has led to the creation of a program of diverse performances that demands to be heard as one large statement.

 The three fleeting solo versions of “Criss Cross” that appear along the way and the longer final reading of Thelonious Monk’s classic are the most obvious sign that Barth has his own ideas about performance and pacing.  They come from his fascination with Monk’s composition and his efforts to concentrate the various ideas this particular piece evoked.  “I did a bunch of individual `Criss Crosses,’ beyond counting,” he recalls.  “The unusual chord progression, and the six-bar bridge, create a challenging asymmetrical character; and there are fewer chords than on many of his tunes, so you can stretch the material out.  And when I found myself getting more and more abstract, I decided to just play a series of one-chorus takes.  They don’t always state the melody directly, but the form is there, and provided a framework for creating something new.  I hadn’t planned to use the shorter takes as interludes originally; but found that they went well with the other music on the recording.”

 So Barth teases the composition out in his three single-chorus inventions, then digs deeper on the longer yet still succinct finale.  Each version confirms Barth’s feeling that the best way to absorb the discoveries of a revered composer/pianist like Monk is to understand his concepts without obviously quoting his style.  Thanks to Barth’s rhythmic strength, this process yields variations with surprise and momentum, where freedom and swing coexist without conflict.

 The multiple versions of “Criss Cross” also underscore one of three strands running through this album - Barth’s love of Monk’s music.  (Barth has made the point previously, especially with the ingeniously titled original “The Way He Wore His Hat” on the Double Time album Don’t Blame Me.)  “Monk is the composer whose tunes are played the most at jam sessions,” he notes, “because every one of his tunes has such a unique character.”  To reinforce the point, Barth also gives us a quintet version of “Light Blue” with a 6/8 ambience and a sweeping Terell Stafford solo that recalls Monk’s preferred trumpeters Ray Copeland and Thad Jones, plus a limber trio reading of “We See”  that is the album’s most in-the-pocket performance.  “Solo playing lets you be out there on the edge,” Barth comments, “but I feel much the same freedom with a great rhythm section.” He has a great one here, and one flexible enough to meet the program’s many demands, in Ugonna Okegwo and Billy Hart.

 The music of Brazil is a second thematic strand in the present program.  While Brazilian tunes have always been among Barth’s passions, he has become deeply immersed in the genre since he made the acquaintance of percussionist Duduka Fonseca and joining the band of vocalist Luciana Souza.  Forseca is added on “Estate,” the Bruno Martino tune that Joao Gilberto introduced to the world, and Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Triste.”  “Duduka’s a great drumset player in his own right, and at some point I’d love to do a whole session with him,” Barth says.  “But Billy Hart, whom I’ve been fortunate to play with quite a bit in the last five years, also has a deep feeling for Brazilian music. Putting them together really worked out, as they have such mutual admiration.”

 So did Barth’s unusual take on “Triste,” which adds an oddly-shaped vamp and a few different chords to the bossa warhorse, then puts it into 7/4 time.  Amidst these alterations, the lyricism of the original shines through even more strongly.  “The three-bar vamp felt so natural,” Barth comments, “and I would never reharmonize to the point where the essential nature of the tune is lost.  The harmony I added in one spot is very `Jobimish,’ with descending major triads.  After experimenting with the piece’s rhythm, I really liked how the melody worked in seven.”  The modifications also sit well with Adam Kolker, who plays an effortless-sounding soprano sax solo over the provocative terrain.  Kolker, heard most frequently with Ray Barretto in recent years, has collaborated with Barth since their students days at New England Conservatory and their joint tenure in the little big band Orange Then Blue.

 “I feel a strong musical and personal rapport with everyone on the album,” Barth notes, “and I love playing with each of these musicians.”  The mutual nature of that affection if highlighted on the quintet readings of two of the originals that form the program’s third strand.  “Tom Tom Thing,” with its take-charge introduction by Hart and its heraldic melody, finds each soloist blowing with great energy and crackling rhythmic support.  The quintet “Solitude” (a Barth opus, not to be confused with the Ellington standard) translate the affinity marking the entire session into the realm of open form.  “This was the first time I put a free thing on record in terms of group improvisation,” Barth notes, “and I was moved by the group’s entire performance, especially by Terell's and Adam's empathy at the beginning of their collective solo.”  Notwithstanding this kinetic interpretation, “Solitude” also has an intimate melody that Barth explores in a shorter solo performance, adding another fleeting echo to the disc’s overall scheme.  The warmth displayed by the pianist on this solo take also suffuses the lengthier “Somehow It’s True,” a ballad that allows Barth balance his more exploratory instincts with the venerable techniques of the solo piano tradition.

 Albums where moods keep shifting and themes reappear can often end up sounding calculated.  This one may work as well as it does because the links were not predetermined, but rather discovered in the process of creation.  “This was really a pretty spontaneous CD,” Barth confesses.  “The idea was just to go into the studio and have some fun.”  It is just such creative spontaneity that allows jazz to continue as a living language, and that marks Barth and his fellow musicians as among its most fluent and articulate “speakers.”
-Bob Blumenthal