A third of the way into the smoothly pulsating “Chicago,” your ears widen to the singular openness and fluency of Diego Barber’s excellent sophomore disc, The Choice. While saxophonist Mark Turner carries the melodic weight, drummer Ari Hoenig and bassists Larry Grenadier and Johannes Weidenmueller wrangle with the meter, capturing the dynamism of the tune’s namesake. Guitarist Barber, meanwhile, stays in the background, animating the piece via flamenco-styled chording.
Barber steps out far more on “Pittaluga” and the three-part Sonata suite at the heart of this worldly offering. Classically trained and light of touch, Barber can conjure atmospheres spanning the volcanic and the pastoral in the space of a single song. But what makes this project stand out most are its diversity and dynamic contrast: For example, on “Pittaluga,” the record’s most complicated track, Barber and Hoenig engage in a remarkable exchange, each eager to outdo the other in pointed, dramatic delicacy. Turner takes the tune out with authority, his solo crisp and full-bodied.
Barber’s largely single-note playing is gorgeous, particularly on “To Annie,” the dreamy opener, and on the three Sonata pieces—a solo guitar journey through parts of West Africa, the jumping-off point for the Canary Islands, Barber’s birthplace. In all, this lovely, patient work swells with yearning, speaking to the kindness and creativity that ground Barber’s music.