Gary Bartz Quartet

Jazz

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Friday 3 June, Melbourne Recital Centre

This years’ Melbourne International Jazz Festival was launched on a cold, wet and wintery evening, by living jazz legend and alto saxophone virtuoso Gary Bartz. He was here to perform his latest project “Coltrane Rules – Tao of a music warrior” accompanied by our very own Barney McAll; esteemed pianist and long-time collaborator, James King on the contrabass, and special guest drummer, Kassa Overall. Bartz’s illustrious career has spanned the best part of 60 years and has been shared with influential jazz luminaries such as Miles Davis, Charles Mingus, Art Blakey, Pharoah Sanders, Max Roach and McCoy Tyner among many others.

To be quite frank, I had virtually no idea what to expect from this group when I arrived at the stage doors, half an hour late due to dreary rain and Melbourne cross-town traffic. My last encounter of Bartz was of him in the 60’s playing ‘free jazz’. I had anticipated something similar, however, following Gary’s introduction to his concert, of “this will be an improvised set without breaks and guided by you the audience”, the tone was set and we were taken off on an enlightening spiritual journey punctuated by McAll’s vibrant lyricism, King’s warmth and sensitivity, and Overall’s unabated drive.

As the first piece began, I closed my eyes and was instantly transported to a place that reminded me of driving through New Orleans on a bright, sunny Sunday afternoon in Spring. Bartz’s soulfully melodic and expressive tone, combined with highly creative rhythmical and song-like phrases, were complimented by the organic and intuitive support from his group. McAll’s piano solo was an exuberant mix of funky, shuffling southern blues, conversing with the slapping rhythm from the bass and marching band hits on the snare.

The repertoire was refreshingly varied ranging from the aforementioned blues to introspective ballad, hard-driving Coltrane-inspired post-bop to the Earth, Wind and Fire classic Fantasy. Bartz even included a few lines of sung poetry by Langston Hughes in I’ve Known Rivers from his 1973 album I’ve Known Rivers and Other Bodies. He also ended the set with some vocals from The Song of Loving-Kindness from 1996 album, The Blues Chronicles. To describe the level of artistry as an organic blend of nuance, passion, sensitivity and sheer emotion, does not do this group’s performance justice. From Barney’s poised accompaniment and soloing, to King’s graceful bowing, to the polyrhythmic intensity and subtlety of Overall’s drums, provided an understated at times, but also bold platform for the leader to weave his virtuosic alchemy. To put it plainly, it was like soul food for the ears…

Reviewer Lee Moore is a Melbourne based saxophonist. He has spent time living and playing in both Adelaide and Chile.

Edited by Dave Llewellyn