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Friday, May 22, 2009

Gato Barbieri - In Search Of The Mystery (ESP, 2009) ****

Argentinian saxophonist Leandro Barbieri, aka El Gato, El Pampero, played with everyone from fellow countryman Lalo Schifrin to Carlos Santana, and is best appreciated with Carla Bley and Don Cherry in the early days of free jazz, to which he added his own sound without playing a major role though.

With Carlos Santana he has more than one element in common. Not only did Barbieri turn Santana's hit "Europa" also into one of his preferred tunes lately, but more importantly, both musicians added Latin lyricism to respectively free jazz and rock in the sixties, in a way that had not been heard before (I saw Santana perform several times, but Barbieri never). Then both were sucked up by the musical establishment, devolving into smooth jazz respectively pop music, using their signature sound to lively up otherwise dull music, yet endlessly repeating themselves in the process. A little sad, but well, everyone needs a living.

Anyway, here we're back in New York in 1967, with Barbieri on tenor, Calo Scott on cello, Norris Jones, aka Sirone, on bass, and Bobby Kapp on drums. On two 20 minute tracks this quartet does what it should do: play the bejesus out of their instruments. Barbieri plays like we know him from his collaborations with Carla Bley and Don Cherry : screeming, overblowing, full blast and full energy, but full of a natural melodicism and fully supported by this band. And they alternate well with softer and slower moments, but the emotional drive and tension are present throughout. Remarkably, even in the quieter parts, Barbieri can suddenly wail like crazy, in total contrast with the background, without any apparent musical reason, out of the blue, as if he got stung by something, going totally over the top, blowing his lungs out, while bass, cello and drums keep their slow pulse. But whatever he does, the emotional expressivity is there at all times, and the rhythm section offers the right balance, counterplay and context for El Gato to thrive in. Good to hear this one. Good sound quality too.

Listen to an excerpt from "In Search Of The Mystery/Michelle"

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