Bruce Barth Quartet ft. Jerry Bergonzi – Sunday
(Blau Records 021 – CD review by Mark McKergow)
American pianist and composer Bruce Barth pulls together a fine quartet and an attractive repertoire for this superbly recorded 2017 performance. Combining latin and swing styles, the music is rich with atmosphere and brims with joyous sounds and solos.
Spanish label Blau Records specialise in recording live shows in as much fidelity as possible. This latest project was recorded at the Espai de la Música Mestre Villa in Bencàssim on 13 May 2017, and brings together a quartet led by Barth and tenor saxophonist Jerry Bergonzi. Five of the six tracks are originals by one or other, and both are clearly comfortable in their writing roles. Bergonzi’s opening Blue Cube jumps off in a relaxed latin style with a rich-toned sax melody and solo, culminating in a round of audience applause which comes as a shock to those (such as me) who haven’t read the sleeve notes and assume this must be a studio date, so well-balanced and rich is the overall sound.
Barth’s Sunday continues the latin feel with its 6/8 lilt, Bergonzi’s solo again building nicely before Barth’s own turn on the piano. Barth has a beautiful style in his soloing, well paced, varied and creating tension-and-release sections which put me in mind of Bill Evans; block chords suddenly giving way to swinging runs, which turn into swirling ostinatos. It’s extremely listenable and rewarding stuff. Drummer Stephen Keogh gets a solo here, plenty of cymbals to the fore as he keeps the groove moving along.
The originals keep coming with Bergonzi’s Double Billed, a swinging affair which gives Barth room to stretch out. Double bassist Mark Hodgson’s solo comes across particularly well, again well caught by the mics, sonorous and full. Afternoon In Lleida, another Barth number, is a slower affair, redolent of the Spanish afternoon, starting gently and building into a series of climaxes before subsiding into gentle harmonies. (Perhaps it was that sort of afternoon…?) Refuge is a clean and simple ballad, which serves as a good counterpoint to the drama that has gone before.
The album closes with Bergonzi’s arrangement of David Raksin’s immortal standard Laura. Bergonzi takes the original film score tune and takes it nicely into the band’s sound, with dramatic chords behind the tune before Barth at last get to take the first solo. All in all this is a very enjoyable collection, beautifully recorded and full of atmosphere.