Jazz CD Reviews

Bruce Barth & Steve Wilson – Home – “We Always Swing,” Inc.

Bruce Barth and Steve Wilson’s agile and imaginative duet album, Home, showcases two friends’ communication and kinship.

Published on May 11, 2010

Bruce Barth & Steve Wilson – Home – “We Always Swing,” Inc.

Bruce Barth & Steve Wilson – Home – “We Always Swing,” Inc.  WASJ-1002, 57:06 ****:

(Bruce Barth – piano; Steve Wilson – alto and soprano saxophones)

When is a house not a home? In the case of pianist Bruce Barth and saxophonist Steve Wilson’s live album, Home, a house is a concert venue and a recording location. The duo outing – part of the Columbia, Missouri-based “We Always Swing” Jazz Series – was recorded at Barbara Tellerman and Allyn Sher’s residence during mid-summer 2009. The result is memorable music in an intimate setting that resonates with beauty, collaboration and friendship.

Barth and Wilson’s association goes back to the late 1980s when both arrived in New York City. Since that time they have worked together in each other’s bands and performed alongside each other in other people’s groups. But despite many years of comradeship, Home marks the first time Barth and Wilson have dueted in tandem as musical partners.

The seven pieces selected for this release – three covers and four Barth originals either premiered or written specifically for this presentation – give the show a broad spectrum: familiarity balanced with newness, and fast-paced material offset by slower graceful moments.

Cole Porter’s peppy opener “All Through the Night,” kicks things off. Barth learned this arrangement while he was with Phil Woods and George Robert and uses Woods’ changes and 7/4 meter. Barth and Wilson roll out some splendid harmonics and solos during their extensive exploration of the classy hit. Barth takes full advantage of a Steinway B piano provided for the gathering and contributes much to appreciate during the impromptu escapade while Wilson also finds plenty of space for his rhythmic pacing and sharp melodic turns.

On Barth’s “The Ways of the West,” Wilson changes to soprano saxophone, which furnishes a sweeter characteristic that is counterbalanced by Barth’s earnest and earthy keyboard. Barth’s aptly-titled “Keep It Moving!” was penned a few years ago but never used and thankfully not abandoned. Barth commences with rakish, stride-like gambits that fill the brisk tune with spontaneous amiability and Wilson advances a limber, flowing alto sax solo with an internal logic both good-natured and polychromatic. The most gorgeous creation is Barth’s self-possessed “L.C.,” inspired by pianist/composer Laurent Coq. Wilson – again on soprano – enhances the ballad’s slowed-down scenario as he glides atop Barth’s deliberately modest piano chords.

The twosome burst out on an energetic interpretation of Bud Powell’s bebop classic “Wail,” which showcases Barth and Wilson’s vigorous agility, immediacy and imagination. The closer is a modern rendition of “Sweet and Lovely” which holds to the adage “Let’s see what happens.” The outcome is a gradual, spiraling wrap-up that displays Barth and Wilson’s nearly-extrasensory communication and their ability to develop from one theme to another by listening and responding to what the other is doing or going to do.

The controlled live setting has superb sound quality. The high ceilings, the sizable windows, the wooden floor, the large living room and the closely-recorded instruments all help effect a detailed and sympathetic recording. Bob Blumenthal’s equally particular liner notes supply informative behind-the-scenes aspects.

1. All Through the Night
2. The Ways of the West
3. Keep It Moving!
4. L.C.
5. Blues Interruptus
6. Wail
7. Sweet and Lovely

— Doug Simpson

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