A dignified, though not quite refined, elder statesman for what was once dubbed the “New Thing,” Gary Bartz, at 80, finds himself at home in a wide array of settings. I at first wished these newest settings—produced by Jazz Is Dead co-founders Adrian Younge and Ali Shaheed Muhammad (the latter formerly of A Tribe Called Quest)—didn’t come off so smooth. But as I burrowed in, I discovered grit beneath seeming slickness: a turn of tone on an organ; an impatient cymbal-bashing; the track “Black and Brown,” so primed to propel it touches each beat only on tiptoe.
Against all this Bartz turns and dervishes with lines that simultaneously stick out from and reinforce the rest of the mix, a feat recalling organist Garth Hudson’s badinage in the Band. As for all the female singers leaning warmly into lines like “touched from above” and “heavenly love,” well, they don’t sport the manic street-preacher intonations that Mary Maria Parks brought to late Albert Ayler, but I made my peace with that.
I look at the news and I see American leadership (not America, not yet) restored to normal expectations of borderline sanity. But evil unbridled left plenty of splats to wipe down. I’m extremely frustrated, and I can’t be alone, at how six decades of “peace” and “love,” in all imaginable intonations, have left us, seemingly, with a love train that’s barely left the station. Bartz, and the warm-willed souls with him, remind us how we just plain have to keep taking turns, shouldering the forward motion. Enough soft, righteous water might yet wear away that stone.