Gary Bartz Quintet at Smoke

The Eyes Have It

Gary Bartz Quintet at Smoke

After a familiar Charlie Parker ostinato opening to “Star Eyes,” alto saxophonist Gary Bartz eased his quintet into the standard with a sampling from “Johnny One-Note,” that was soon a flurry of many notes. He smoothly sketched the melody line before surrendering the bridge to alto saxophonist Vincent Herring, who, as he would do to the delight of the audience at Smoke in Upper Manhattan for the remainder of the evening’s first set, essay lavish ripples of Bird-like solos.
When they were not alternating on the tune, the two horns were in wonderful counterpoint, and the tight blend they evoked was at each turn emphasized by the rhythm section—pianist Sullivan Fortner; bassist James King, and drummer Greg Bandy.
The late Walter Davis Jr.’s “Uranus” is an intricate but fascinating composition and once again Herring and Bartz gave special attention to the rhythmic complexity without losing the tune’s pretty contours, and Fortner, a native of New Orleans and a graduate of Oberlin College was particularly impressive with his occasional run of locked chords and Davis would have truly appreciated his harmonic interpretation.
The quintet was quickly back in their comfortable bebop milieu with “The Night Has a Thousand Eyes,” and there were a thousand sighs in the club when King delivered this solo, moving with a pleasant, unrushed precision on his bass. And it was clear from his intuitive feel for the beat that Bandy had played this tune, well, not a thousand times, but enough to avoid any of the time worn clichés.
Freddie Hubbard’s “Up Jump Spring” was a perfect nod to the almost balmy first day of November weather in the city, and Bartz, now on soprano saxophone, treated the song with a series of musical hints, including a lick or two from “Without a Song” before tossing the bouncy number to Herring to push it to yet another plateau of beauty.
There was a strong temptation to stick around for another set but having purchased Bartz’s latest CD “Coltrane Rules—Tao of a Music Warrior,” his music would fill the living room at the next stop where a partner with “Star Eyes” and a night with a thousand eyes was waiting for our trip to Uranus.

---Herb Boyd
Nov. 1, 2013

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Herb Boyd