Personnel: Gato Barbieri (spoken vocals, saxophone); Dino Saluzzi (bandoneon); Howard Johnson (bass clarinet, saxophone, flugelhorn, tuba); Randy Brecker (trumpet, flugelhorn); Ron Carter (bass guitar); Grady Tate (drums).
Gato Barbieri may be one of those saxophonists whose sound is so closely associated with smooth jazz -- and has been since the late '70s -- that it's hard to imagine he was once the progenitor of a singular kind of jazz fusion: and that's world fusion, not jazz-rock fusion. Barbieri recorded four albums for Impulse! between 1973 and 1975 that should have changed jazz forever, in that he provided an entirely new direction when it was desperately needed. That it didn't catch certainly isn't his fault, but spoke more to the dearth of new ideas that followed after the discoveries of John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, and Miles Davis. Barbieri, a Coltrane disciple, hailed from Argentina and sought to bring the music of Latin America, most specifically its folk forms, into the jazz arena. He was wildly successful aesthetically and critically if not commercially -- though the first album, Chapter One: Latin America, sold well enough (it is currently available as half of a two-disc set called Latino America [IMPD 236-2], which includes Chapter Two: Hasta Siempre, restores all cuts to their original lengths, and adds bonus material). But there's more to it than his adding folk musicians -- not studio pros -- to the mix. Barbieri's volume of The Impulse Story is one of a ten-disc series by individual artists that fleshes out the four-CD box called The House That Trane Built, supporting Ashley Kahn's book of the same name -- the author chose all the selections on these volumes and wrote biographical notes to each package. Barbieri appears here with small and large folk groups -- which include fellow Argentine bandoneonist Dino Saluzzi to name just one -- recorded in both Rio and Los Angeles. The disc's first five cuts come from Chapter One and Chapter Two, and the complete versions of both "Nunca Mas" and "Econtros," as well as the stomping "Gato Gato," come from those sessions. The next phase of the Impulse!/Gato saga took place in 1974 on Chapter Three: Viva Emiliano Zapata -- which remains out of print -- and the next three cuts, "Cuando Vuelva a Tu Lado (What a Difference a Day Makes)," the title tune, and Barbieri's own "El Sublime," are included. These tracks feature the saxophonist fronting Cuban bandleader and arranger Chico O'Farrill's big band, and were recorded in New York. Barbieri's amazing jazz tango "Milonga Triste" comes from Chapter Four: Alive in New York. The set turns in on itself by going back to Chapter One in the brief and beautiful cut called "To Be Continued." This is a fine introduction to Gato Barbieri for those who are interested in what he sounded like before he became a star and began playing more middle-of-the-road material -- much if which is excellent as well. Barbieri is worthy of serious rediscovery by a new generation, and this tight little set goes a long way toward making that case. ~ Thom Jurek