Friday, May 13, 2011

Listening Pleasure

Sitting by myself last night, I finally got to really listen to "Live at Smalls", the new CD by the Bruce Barth Trio.  The jazz club, located at 183 West 10th Street in New York City, has been issuing "live' recordings for the past year or so, thanks to an ambitious plan of Spike Wilner.  One can actually go to the club's website - - and watch live feeds of performances and they are building an archive of these performances as well.

Anyway, I'm in the big chair letting Barth's music wash over me and am blown away by just how impressive drummer Rudy Royston's playing is in this band.  First of all, you can't miss him, because Royston is way "up" in the mix.  Secondly, it's a trio gig so he stands out.  His work on Barth's "Wilsonian Alto" is positively stunning. He's right on top of the beat and while bassist Vicente Archer is holding down the tempo, Royston is absolutely dancing underneath Barth's flowing, funky, fiery phrases.  In the midst of the solo, Royston takes off and he is accenting the pianist's lines, he's firing off machine-gun riffs, he's all over the kit and I swear the room is levitating.  The piece slows down for the excellent bass solo; when the pianist returns, the music just boils over.  Elsewhere on the program, he bounces and romps through the pianist's "Almost Blues", softly emphasizes the handsome melody of "Yama", mostly on the floor toms and cymbal but always subtle. 

Let's take nothing away from Barth. His flowing lines and rapid phrases shine throughout "Peaceful Place", buoyed by the active percussion and Archer's rich, full-toned, bass lines. The pianist delivers a heartfelt reading of "Good Morning Heartache", first recorded by Billie Holiday in 1946. As mighty as Barth is on uptempo pieces, he can be so gentle and contemplative on ballads.  His rippling phrases are filled with blues, with longing, with regret while Archer plays off and under him. 

"Live at Smalls" is one of those recordings that makes one feel as if he or she is right next to the bandstand.  Some "live" recordings feel "juiced up" or muddy and distant - this one is immediate, exciting, alive and human.  Bruce Barth, Vicente Archer, and Rudy Royston deliver the goods. Enjoy!

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Honorable mention goes to another master musician, the great Belgian guitarist and harmonica virtuoso Jean "Toots" Thielemans. His new "European Quartet: Live" CD, released by Challenge Records, is made up of pieces recorded over a 3-year period.  Accompanied by Karel Boehlee (piano, synthesizer), Hein Van de Geyn (acoustic bass), and Hans van Oosterhout (drums), the youthful "harmonicat" (now 89-years old, he's had to retire from guitar playing) runs through an eclectic program of standards, Brazilian tunes, and his "hits" ("Theme from Midnight Cowboy", "Bluesette"). Listen to his unaccompanied take of "Round Midnight" - it's heartfelt, touching, and pleasing.  And, he can "swing" so well, as he displays during "On Green Dolphin Street" and the hard-driving take of "Summertime" (his cohorts acquit themselves very well in support and on their own.)

Mr. Thielmans is one of those master musicians who always satisfies his audiences. His harmonica work, easily recognizable, continues to be inventive. What he may have lost in "speed", he more than makes up for with his inventiveness, his joy for playing and melodic flair.  May he continue to bring those qualities to his music for years to come.  Check him out at

1 comment:

  1. Nice work as always, Richard. For Richard's readers, here's a link to Bruce Barth talking about the new record (and a lot more) on The Jazz Session: