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Bruce Barth: Live at the Village Vanguard

Bruce Barth is one of the contemporary scene’s most consistently satisfying pianists. Finding obviously stimulating challenges in venerable song forms first forged along Tin Pan Alley, the pianist spins out variations on standards and standard-based originals that have wide appeal. A sublime melodist whose varied lines induce dreams one moment and smack us in the chops the next, Barth possesses a harmonic palette whose spectrum of colors evokes Bill Evans at one end and Thelonious Monk at the other.

Here, in a spirited trio session recorded live at the Village Vanguard in August 2002, the pianist takes flight in the good company of bassist Ugonna Okegwo and drummer Al Foster. Opening with a jaunty foray through the leader’s aptly titled “Little Ditty,” Barth’s ideas dance, dart and fly. On this, as on all eight trio tracks, Okegwo and Foster feather the always-centered pulse with a swinging joie de vivre that allows Barth to whisper and roar. This is a mature threesome whose palpable empathy and shared vision allow it to speak with a single voice.

Standards receiving the trio’s expert care include a poignant “Star Eyes” and a pell-mell paced “In the Still of the Night” in which any notion of quietude is turned upside down. Monk’s “San Francisco Holiday” and “Let’s Call This” are other gems. Ditto for the Barth-penned “Song for Alex,” “Days of June” and “Prospect Avenue Blues.” Barth’s effective solo turns on Monk’s “Evidence” and Arlen’s “When the Sun Comes Out” balance out the program.

Originally Published