Pianist Bruce Barth starts throwing curves right out of the gate on Daybreak, transforming Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Triste,” rhythmically and harmonically, into a buoyantly percussive, odd-meter delight. It’s one of several performances that immediately invite repeat listens, the better to appreciate the pianist’s wit and invention or to enjoy the inspired company he’s keeping this time around: trumpeter/flugelhornist Terell Stafford, vibraphonist Steve Nelson, bassist Vicente Archer and drummer Montez Coleman.
While the lineup shifts from time to time, the distinctive instrumentation pays off consistently. Stafford is in terrific shape-shifting form—now a hard-bop virtuoso, now a lyrical balladeer, now a master of soulfully expressive slurs that reveal deep roots and stylistic affinities. Likewise, Nelson proves adept as colorist, collaborator and foil, so much so that one wishes the two were teamed more often in this seemingly intuitive setting. Then again, not the least of the album’s charms is Barth and Nelson performing as a duo on the luminous ballad “Somehow It’s True,” one of seven tunes here composed by the pianist. Not long afterward, Barth and Stafford sound similarly well matched and autonomous on Keith Jarrett’s “So Tender.”
Archer and Coleman play significant roles when the ensemble performances demand atmospheric touches, as they often do, but they’re also responsible for vibrantly propelling Barth’s “Tuesday’s Blues” and other highlights. Barth has now recorded 13 albums as a leader, and like many of its predecessors, Daybreak can’t help but enhance his reputation as player, composer, arranger and bandleader.