Pianist Bruce Barth hasn’t yet achieved widest notice or listings in jazz encyclopedias, but he has racked up seven recordings as leader since 1993. His latest CD, East and West (MaxJazz), is his most personal.
Barth wrote five of the 10 tracks, drawing largely upon childhood memories of the West (“At the Ranch,” “Riding Off,” “Sundown Time,” and others) and uniquely blending tunes with modern harmonies. “I was born in Pasadena, California, and when I was young my family took a lot of trips around the West to see ghost towns, cowboys and those kinds of things that really excite kids’ imaginations,” says Barth. “Some of those memories gave me inspiration for these songs.”
The album’s genesis evolved from some free improvisations the 42-year-old Barth recorded while in the studio for a solo piano project. He later began to arrange the music for a large ensemble. Barth chose musicians with whom he’s had close musical associations—reedmen Steve Wilson and Adam Kolker, trumpeter Terell Stafford, bassist Ugonna Okegwo and, more recently, drummer Al Foster.
Barth was striving for an ultrarich horn sound. “It was wonderful having the opportunity to write for four horns,” says Barth. “Because some of the musicians doubled on other instruments, I was really able to experiment, even in the arranging, to feature different instruments on top, vary the number of instruments playing at once, and alter combinations to get different instrumental colors.”
Barth studied classical piano from age five to 18, but he gained exposure to jazz as a teenager and began teaching himself to play from recordings. He earned a master’s in music from the New England Conservatory and, in late 1998, moved to Brooklyn, N.Y. Stints followed with Nat Adderley, Stanley Turrentine and Terence Blanchard’s quintet; Barth appears on over 50 albums as sideman. Barth’s recorded for Enja and Double-Time as a leader, and he’s no stranger to MaxJazz, having produced many of the label’s vocal series releases; East and West is the first in MaxJazz’s piano series.
With its settings from septet to solo piano, East and West may be the multifaceted Barth’s breakthrough album