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

Posted in CD Reviews with tags , , , , , , on February 1, 2014 by curtjazz

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  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.

2014 Jazz Grammy® Preview #2 – Best Jazz Vocal Album

Posted in 2014 Grammys with tags , , , , , , , , on January 24, 2014 by curtjazz

Our second category is for the singers: Best Jazz Vocal Album. This is as strong a group of nominees for this award as I’ve seen in a while. There’s not a dud in the bunch. Though there are a number of seasoned vets here who’ve had their share of nominations, I think that it’s really a race between two relative newcomers for the trophy.

The nominees are:

Andy Bey: The World According to Andy Bey (HighNote Records)

The 74-year-old vocalist is an under-appreciated treasure. Every few years he reappears again to drop another bit of timeless art on us. Usually these days it’s just Bey’s voice and his piano, which is more than sufficient. The World According to Andy Bey is his second Grammy nominated album, following American Song in 2005. Bey does might justice to a well mixed group of standards, his own tunes and rarely performed songs by others.  Though a win by Mr. Bey would be a great thing. It’s not likely to happen; the juggernaut of the newcomers is a bit too strong.

Lorraine Feather: Attachments (Jazzed Media)

Ms. Feather is one of my favorite singer/songwriters. I love the unfailing wry wit in her lyrics and the way that she interprets them. Why another singer hasn’t done an album of Feather’s compositions is a mystery to me. The Grammy nominating committee also appreciates her , as Attachments is her third album in a row to be nominated for Best Jazz Vocal Album. Attachments is classic Feather as she mines one of her favorite topics, relationships. Not just male/female interactions but family, friends and even vermin are discussed and wondered upon. It’s one of her best among many very good albums. This woman should get a Grammy but I don’t think that it will happen this time.

Gregory Porter: Liquid Spirit (Blue Note Records)

Juggernaut – Part 1. Gregory Porter’s reputation has grown by leaps and bounds since he first burst on the scene with Water in 2010. His brand of soul-infused jazz singing brought him critical and commercial acclaim. Liquid Spirit, his first album for Blue Note, has garnered two Grammy nominations; one in this category for the album and the other for Best Traditional R & B Performance for the song “Hey Laura”. The album is very strong (though not IMO, as good as last year’s Be Goodwhich was also Grammy nominated) The critics love him, the fans love him and his name recognition is growing. Will Grammy love him? I’d say that there’s a good chance. The only one I think who could stop him from winning is…

Cecile McLorin Salvant: WomanChild (Mack Avenue Records)

Juggernaut – Part 2. Cecile McLorin Salvant seemingly appeared out of nowhere and dropped the best jazz vocal album of not only this year but of the last few years in WomanChild. Her way with a lyric is impeccable, her swing is right on time and her voice is unique in the best way possible. The thing is, she is just 24 years old! She’s got Abbey Lincoln’s wizened soul wrapped in her youthful, downtown cool persona. In addition, the non-jazz media  seems to be lining up behind her, with one mainstream publication stopping just short of anointing Ms. Salvant as “The Next Esperanza Spalding”. All of these stars aligning usually leads to victory on Grammy night, which I feel is a very likely case here. The only thing that may stop her is some may vote against her because of her youth but I doubt that will happen.

Tierney Sutton: After Blue (BFM Jazz)

Tierney Sutton alas, is to this Grammy category as Glenn Close is to the Oscars. Like Ms. Close, she is a very well-respected, gifted performer, whose art is always good enough to get her nominated for the big awards but in the end, she ends up being eclipsed by someone with a hot hand. After Blue gained Ms. Sutton her fifth nomination for Best Jazz Vocal Album.  As usual, it’s a great album; focused on the music of the legendary Joni Mitchell. Sutton has given us some fresh takes on some very familiar tunes and done consistent justice to the material. Also as usual, there’s a big, shiny object that will likely attract voter’s attention away from Ms. Sutton’s steady artistry. She is the longest shot.

So here is my bottom line unscientific prediction:

  • Should Win: Cecile McLorin Salvant
  • Will Win: Cecile McLorin Salvant

Next up on our preview will be Best Jazz Instrumental Album, which includes another very strong field of contenders this year.