Thursday, June 4, 2009

Gato Barbieri and the New Music Frontier, 1967

Tenorman Gato Barbieri entered the new jazz world auspiciously with the Don Cherry group and showed himself to be a "new thing" player with an intensity that was matched by a fully grounded general musical sense. By the time of his first solo release in 1967, he had developed a style that touched especially upon the later work of Coltrane, but had already gone beyond to a personal sound and phrase construction.

That first album, In Search of the Mystery (ESP), has become available again as part of ESP's comprehensive reissue program. That's good news, because I believe that album has suffered undue neglect. It's time we recognize it for what it is, a passionate musical essay in the free realm, a classic, an important cornerstone in Gato's all-too-short recorded opus of serious endeavors.

We won't talk here about Gato's work from Last Tango in Paris on. People do what they do after they are tired of scuffling to earn a living. It was one of the biggest disappointments to me, though. I haven't heard that he has ever righted himself and gotten back on track as an important stylistic force. That is a genuine pity.

The ESP Disk at hand shows what we have missed all these years. It's a quartet date with very sympathetic and worthy sidemen. Calo Scott's cello adds a second voice and a more complex texture to the mix. Bassist Sirone blazes away in the background. Drummer Bobby Kapp bashes on effectively. (I wonder what happened to him? He did some nice work, both here and on Marion Brown's Three for Shepp.)

When I first listened to this record many years ago, I though Gato was a little constricted and repetitious. I listen now and I come to understand that he was using a particular series of intervals as fulcrum points for his improvisations. It's searing, incandescent blowing most all the way through. And now I realize it also has a certain discipline, an imposed structure onto the freedom.

It's nice to have this one back in print. In it's own way, it is an important statement from Gato the artist. Certainly one of his best. Go to to download or order the CD.

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