Bruce Barth Trio – Live At Smalls – SmallsLive SL0019, 64:00 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] ***½:
(Bruce Barth – piano; Vincente Archer – bass; Rudy Royston – drums)
Good things come in “Smalls” packages. Whether it is the Greenwich Village jazz club, or the artists who play at the venue or the recordings produced under the name, jazz fans are the beneficiaries. This live recording by the Bruce Barth Trio is an embodiment of these facets.
In this session, all of the compositions are by Bruce Barth with the exception of “Good Morning Heartache”. Barth has developed a notable reputation as a fine pianist and an interesting composer, with a contemporary and inventive approach. Beginning with “Oh Yes I Will”, Barth and his trio take flight on a novel harmonic note, thereby drawing in the audience with ingenuity. “Sunday” is a more animated tune that gives the group freedom to explore its boundaries. As the disc unfolds, it is clear that Barth is comfortable using his own compositions as a platform for his musical ideas. For example on “Peaceful Place” he uses some gospel infused sections to deliver an authentic and special song that reflects his musical ideas.
The two subsequent pieces would appear to have a more personal meaning in that “Afternoon In Lleida” is derived from a jazz festival in that Spanish city in which Barth participated and has a wonderful tempo. Then “Wilsonian Alto” was written for Barth’s longtime friend and colleague Steve Wilson and has a Brazilian rhythm on which the group develops its excursion. Anyone who has heard Ray Bryant’s bluesy version of “Good Morning Heartache” is probably going to be disappointed with Barth’s minimalist interpretation, but that should not deter the listener from an appreciation of Barth’s intent.
Barth’s success on this project is enhanced by the unique and animated support he received from Vincente Archer on bass and Rudy Royston on drums. All of this gives the recording its foundation to sustain the creative experience.
TrackList: Oh Yes I Will; Sunday; Yama; Almost Blues; Peaceful Place; Afternoon In Lleida; Wilsonian Alto; Good Morning Heartache; Looking Up.
— Pierre Giroux