Live at Smalls
Bruce Barth is a jazzman’s jazzman (and a pianist’s pianist) in much the same way certain authors are known as writer’s writers: much-admired by his peers and the cognoscenti but largely unknown to the wider public. Still, even without the recognition he deserves, Barth has kept busy, putting out 12 CDs under his own name over the past couple of decades and several dozen more backing others. He has accompanied singers (Karrin Allyson, Luciana Souza, Tony Bennett) and fellow instrumentalists (Stanley Turrentine and Terence Blanchard were early employers; lately he has worked most often with Steve Wilson and Terell Stafford).
And Barth often leads trios in club appearances. Live at Smalls was recorded over a couple of nights last September. Barth’s sidemen are players who keep similarly busy, bassist Vicente Archer dividing his time primarily between Robert Glasper and Nicholas Payton, drummer Rudy Royston splitting his between Bill Frisell and JD Allen. Here the three blend beautifully on a program consisting almost entirely of Barth originals.
“Oh Yes I Will” starts things off at a quick tempo, with the later “Almost Blues” the most straight-ahead jazz workout on the disc, Archer’s walking bass and Royston’s propulsive drums driving the rhythm along nicely beneath Barth’s piano. The pleasantly lyrical waltz-time “Sunday” slows things down momentarily before kicking into overdrive for the tune’s midsection. “Peaceful Place” is airily pretty, with gospel accents and a splendid solo by Archer. “Wilsonian Alto,” named for Steve Wilson, explores Brazilian rhythms; “Afternoon in Lleida” opens with a quiet drum intro paired with a bass ostinato that glides into slow swing. The standard “Good Morning Heartache” is the only tune not written by Barth, but his arrangement is exquisite—the tempo slowed, new harmonies added, the support from Archer and Royston kept subtly understated. Here, especially, Barth’s refined touch as pianist, composer-arranger and leader is unmistakable.