Sunday, April 03, 2016

Goodbye, Gato

I don't pretend to be an expert on the music of Gato Barbieri, who passed away yesterday at age 83, but I treasure a few of his early recordings. The track above—from a 1968 duo session with Dollar Brand that's been issued under various names over the years—chilled and electrified me when I first heard it. I distinctly remember throwing this one on during either a very late-night or early-morning DJ slot at WKCR and sitting in the control room spellbound by its strange tension, the way it slides back and forth between gravitas and savagery.

And I have never forgotten his elliptical proclamation in the liner notes (for the Arista/Freedom LP edition, titled Confluence): "'I do not scream,' said Gato, 'for the same reasons Pharoah Sanders screams.'" Wish there was more from that interview, but there you have it. His saxophonic "scream" is one of the most excruciating I know. There are many exquisite examples in the track above, where the sound swells to a horrible bursting. There is a quality of madness in the Barbieri scream that I find immensely appealing.

He also plays beautifully in these group settings...

Alan Shorter's Orgasm:


Don Cherry's Complete Communion:

Complete Communion in particular is simply a heavenly album. There are few more earthy and pleasurable and charming and exciting jazz sessions: four masters in, well... re-read the title, with a ton of meaty material to dig into. Barbieri is fully on board with Cherry's "cocktail piece" medley methodology—he's clearly having a blast digging into each melody and, eventually, detonating it. And the Shorter has a beautiful kind of stark, haunted vibe, to which Barbieri makes key contributions. Barbieri's own In Search of the Mystery, which features Calo Scott's cello in an odd yet highly effective foil role, is similarly underrated and heavy-duty.

If anyone knows the Flying Dutchman and Impulse albums well, I'm all ears re: recommendations. (The Third World is one I have my eye on.) I sense that for the listener attuned to Barbieri's early work, the intrigue thins out in the later part of Barbieri's career, but I could of course be very wrong. Discographical minutiae aside, farewell to a musician who honed a real voice on his instrument and made a focused yet indelible impact on this particular listener.

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