505, June 1
Gary Bartz knows that truth has a beauty deeper than mere aesthetics. When the American puts his alto saxophone to his lips he tells you some things you already know and some things you don’t, but he never tells a musical lie. He is deeply connected to the wellspring of jazz, not just because of his early-career associations with Art Blakey, Miles Davis, Charles Mingus, Max Roach and McCoy Tyner, but because he understands that, more than any scales, harmonies or rhythms, the music is about making oneself naked enough to tell emotional truths with absolute conviction.
Bartz mostly held back his full power, and then when he did storm to the peaks of which he was capable – when his saxophone was wailing and scything – the impact was like being impaled on a stake.
He and his band have no set-lists and don’t stop playing. After a predetermined opener Bartz segued directly into an introduction to the next piece, decided upon in the moment, and so on in a constant flow, like a river with many tributaries, and pianist Barney McAll, bassist James King and drummer Kassa Overall on their toes as to where Bartz was headed. Each set presented an array of standards, grooves, moods and thrilling solos, as though that river were in flood, and diverse beautiful towns, bridges and mountains were rushing past.
Twenty years ago McAll, a local, teamed up with Bartz for some Australian dates, and the saxophonist was so impressed he asked the pianist to move to New York and join his band. It was not the sort of offer one debates about, and now McAll’s mastery of Bartz’s approach saw him instantly with the saxophonist for every twist and turn, while generating solos of phenomenal excitement and invention. King’s rather staccato shaping of his notes leant the grooves propulsion and clipped precision, against which the younger Overall was something of the joker in the pack, often playing the unexpected with great flair.