Gary Bartz, review by John Clare
Performance June 1, 2016, Venue505
Here is something you may find odd. If you are voluntarily or involuntarily serious about music it may seem that, having experienced many distinct periods merging and separating, you may find that each one had its exceptional and deeply significant figures. You may forget them for a while, but hearing them again even briefly re-awakens something very deep. Alto saxophonist Gary Bartz participated in the jazz era known as hard bop, then post bop and so on.. He was in the bands of Art Blakey, Charles Mingus, Miles Davis et al. With Mingus he was in the merging of this form with “free jazz”, with Davis the further transition into electro funk, fusion or whatever. In all these periods a serious though largely non verbal message could be discerned by the serious.Words did play their part to a larger degree perhaps than in most preceding modern forms. Why, in bebop they sang syllables not words. In the sixties we had John Coltrane intoning “A love supreme, a love supreme..” (on the album A Love Supreme of course) while Pharoah (that’s the way he spells it) Sanders included a song that went “The Creator has a master plan/ Peace and happiness for every man,” and songs, chants and social demands proliferated within mainly instrumental music.
Civil rights and God (which God?) were the main preoccupations. Bartz sang briefly two or three time at 505. These not exceptional efforts did deepen the memories however.
In the first set I failed to rise to the occasion, though listeners of many ages around me did so ecstatically. I had already walked long distances to venues two nights in a row, following fairly long high speed jaunts on my road bike. My impressions are not worth considering. In the second set I was ready and I was electrified. As bassist Jonathan Zwartz remarked to me, This is the way jazz was played…”. I have forgotten exactly which dates he mentioned, but many from the late fifties onward would have been appropriate. The one Australian on stage, pianist Barney Mcall, who had played with Bartz in America, produced cascades and rolling runs of brilliance, passion and fire. At very much the same level as Bartz and his bassist James King and drummer Kassa Overall. Those three were long time associates. If you did not know it you would have assumed McCall was a part of the band also.
That It is possible to feel as if you are in a jazz club hearing burning jazz is not something I would have confidently predicted for this time some years ago. 505, incidentally, is a place I very much enjoy, Not least because it has an eclectic array of seating, from sofas to hard chairs and tables, and listening hard amongst friends and unknown enthusiasts eclipsed any presence of A Listers (my most bitterly loathed expression at present) among fashionable furnishings. If there were any of either they were invisible to me.
Bartz practically burned the skin with lines that angled and struck and were sometimes held through many coiling and crying lines filled with prodigious invention, Sometimes angular sometimes smoothly fluent and fast. His sound is a hard bright but sometimes darkly burning yellow, somewhere within the same genus as perhaps Jackie McLean.
The most excited audience response was elicited by drummer Overall’s hard battering, relentless but often quirky and even funny solos – reactions I would have thought had faded away. Well, the standard of competence and artistry from young players and veterans is too high for that.
Gary Bartz – sax, Barney Mcall – piano, James King – bass, Kassa Overall -drums