Pianist, composer and bandleader Bruce Barth has been a major force in jazz for over twenty years, sharing his music with enthusiastic listeners around the globe. He has performed on over one hundred recordings and movie soundtracks (including twelve CDs as a leader) and has collaborated with such master musicians as Stanley Turrentine, James Moody, Art Farmer, Phil Woods, Freddie Hubbard, Tom Harrell, Branford Marsalis, Tony Bennett, Terence Blanchard (recording six CD's and several movie soundtracks, and playing on screen in Spike Lee's Malcolm X), and many others.
But it is with his own music, and leading his own bands, where Barth has been able to make his most profound musical statements. Whether it be playing solo piano (American Landscape on Satchmo Jazz Records), leading an all-star septet (East and West on MaxJazz), leading his trio in a recording live at the legendary Village Vanguard in NYC, or on the recent DVD, Live at Café Del Teatre (recorded live at the Lleida Jazz Festival) or in duo performance (with Steve Wilson on Home, We Always Swing), Barth displays a depth of quality in his voluminous body of compositions, and his deeply personal and expressive prowess on the piano, refined through countless hours on the bandstand and in the studio.
With the release of Bruce Barth-Live at Smalls (on the smallsLIVE label), featuring his trio of Vicente Archer (bass) and Rudy Royston (drums), the veteran pianist/composer/bandleader has once again created a recording that is deeply rooted in the jazz tradition, but sparkles with a perennial modernity that characterizes the best music of our time. In a recent review in The Newark Star-Ledger, Zan Stewart wrote, "No one sounds quite like Barth. His solos are characterized by robust swing, his ability to tell a story, and by his rich, beguiling sound." On Live at Smalls Barth more than lives up to the critical praise and continues to position himself as one of the preeminent jazz pianists and composers of his generation.
Barth commented on Live at Smalls, "The music on Live at Smalls reflects my continually evolving approach to composing and performing in a trio setting. In each composition I try to create a distinct mood or musical atmosphere." "Oh Yes I Will" is built on a particular suspended chord in an unusual key, F# Major, and the harmony shifts underneath a repeated melodic figure. "Sunday" is a lyrical tune in three that has the harmonic potential to open up in reckless abandon. "Wilsonian Alto", titled for Barth's long-term collaborator, Steve Wilson, draws on two Brazilian rhythms, the Partido Alto and Afoxe. While "Afternoon in Lleida" begins with an open drum introduction over a hypnotic bass ostinato, dissolving into a rhythmically free statement of the melody, and falls into what is known to some veterans of the music as "Grown-folk tempo" (a medium slow swing). "Peaceful Place" begins with space and simple harmony, with gospel sections interspersed. Barth sums up the music on the recording by saying, "It is my hope that these diverse grooves, colors, and rhythms are the expression of a musical voice that is personal and authentic, as I try to put into my music what I hear and feel. My composing and playing over the past three decades have been an attempt to go continually deeper, in developing the rhythmic, harmonic, and melodic ideas that give shape to my music."
Barth is joined on Live at Smalls by two of the most sought-after musicians on the scene today, Vicente Archer on bass and Rudy Royston on drums. Barth has said of his valued collaborators, "I picked Vicente Archer and Rudy Royston for my trio because both have distinctive and expressive voices on their instruments, and play with imagination and intensity. Even more importantly, we share a common philosophy: to play without an agenda - without any preconceptions of what direction the music will go, but rather to be in the moment, listen to each other, and let the music happen spontaneously."
Barth chose compositions for this recording that would challenge the trio and suggest different musical possibilities, without bogging them down with too much detail. His ideal for the recording of Live at Smalls was to create an environment where all members of the band felt inspired to play in the moment, and to follow the music where it lead them. "I hope that the listener enjoys the journey as much as we do", Bruce Barth.
smallsLIVE is dedicated to the idea that jazz is best heard in a live context, with minimal editing, captured in the full spontaneous moment in which it was created. smallsLIVE artists are not placed under any constraints in terms of material, length of cuts or personnel. The artist chooses all the takes. the presentation is that of being at the live show.