Album Review: Coltrane Rules (Tao of a Music Warrior) – Gary Bartz

The following review first appeared in the December 2013 issue of Eric Nemeyer’s Jazz Inside Magazine.

Gary Bartz

gary bartz

COLTRANE RULES (Tao of a Music Warrior) – OYO Recordings www.garybartz.com  After the Rain; I Concentrate on You; Dear Lord; To Your Lady; Nita; Dahomey Dance/Tunji; Birdtrane; Vilia/Ole; Pristine; The Song of Loving/Kindness; After the Rain

PERSONNEL: Gary Bartz, soprano saxophone, alto saxophone, bass clarinet, vocals; Barney McAll, piano; James King, bass; Greg Bandy, drums; Andy Bey, vocals; Rene McLean, flute; Makea Keith, vocals; Eric Rose, vocals; Ommas Keith, vocals

By Curtis Davenport

Many times recordings are made, mastered and then shelved. Why? Sometimes it’s because all involved realize how bad the music is and for anyone to hear it would damage an artist’s reputation. Other times the music is good but there are financial squabbles between the artists and the producers/management/record company.  And other times the record company goes under and the recording is orphaned. Those are just a few of the many reasons that tapes can stay on the shelf for years. Sometimes this will deprive the listening public of the chance to hear some good music and sometimes keeping an album on the shelf is a great public service. Veteran saxophonist Gary Bartz’s most recent release Coltrane Rules (Tao of a Music Warrior) consists mostly of tracks that were recorded in 2000. Having now heard them, I can now say “what took you so long”.

Though he has never achieved wide acclaim, Gary Bartz has been on the jazz scene since the mid 60’s when he joined the Max Roach / Abbey Lincoln group. His career has been a series of up and downs and he has dabbled in just about every jazz related musical style from bop to modal to free jazz to jazz-rock fusion to funk/disco and then back to his roots. He made his recorded debut as a member of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers on Soul Finger and he joined Miles Davis in 1970, right in the middle of Miles’ electric/fusion phase.  So when I heard that Mr. Bartz had recorded a Coltrane tribute, I thought that it had possibilities since he, unlike many others making similar projects, was an actual contemporary of Trane’s. It could also, given Bartz’s eclectic history, go in a number of different directions. What would Bartz do? Would he concentrate on the boppish Prestige/Atlantic years, would he use the avant-garde projects of the mid 60’s as a base or would it be a combination of both?

It turns out that Bartz and his quartet at that time chose to concentrate mostly on the mainstream side of Trane, which may disappoint fans of the latter years but it will please many others and probably garner this project a good share of airplay in the jazz radio world. Mr. Bartz was at the top of his game on these 13-year-old recordings, his vinegary tone on alto was strong and his sidemen were swinging like mad, which inspired the leader. He often plays here in the low-end of the alto’s register, which gives him a sound that at times is eerily Coltrane-like.  To his credit, Bartz avoided the over familiar Coltrane works for the most part and he even composed a couple of his own works that fit in so easily that I at first thought that they may have been “lost” Trane pieces.

Things start with a bit of the unexpected; an up-tempo, almost 15 minute take of “I Concentrate on You”. Bartz on starting out on alto, sounds great as he throws out inventive solo lines stretching at times to the boundaries of convention, while pianist Barney McAll is deep into a McCoy Tyner bag, comping behind Bartz with Tyner’s patented block chord figures. After McAll solos, Bartz returns on soprano swinging hard right down to the last minute of the piece, where they create a natural fade out. It’s good stuff. This is followed with a pleasant surprise, “Dear Lord” featuring vocals from the great Andy Bey, one of Bartz longtime musical partners. Mr. Bey’s rough-edged but still velvety baritone fits around the lyric perfectly. “Nita” a Coltrane rarity that he originally recorded on Paul Chambers’ Whims of Chambers sessions, is a hard swinging 4/4 flag-waver; as is “Birdtrane” a Bartz composition, with an arrangement reminiscent of “But Not for Me” on the My Favorite Things album. Also quite compelling are two medleys, where Bartz weaves together two similar compositions; one blends “Dahomey Dance” and “Tunji”, the other very effectively combines “Ole” with “Vilia” from the operetta The Merry Widow.

The name of Mr. Bartz’s new record company is OYO, which stands for “Own Your Own” (as well as being the name of a Nigerian tribe). It is through this type of self empowerment that we finally get to hear these first-rate recordings. Let’s hope that Gary Bartz has more like Coltrane Rules in the vaults.

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