Three Things of Beauty
Pianist Bruce Barth’s latest CD, his 12th as a leader, may well be his most elegant. The quartet session features vibraphonist Steve Nelson, and the interplay between them could hardly be more empathetic and fluid. Suave but never slick, Barth and Nelson expressively navigate each tune’s innate spirit, from the moody exploration of “Wise Charlie’s Blues” (one of six Barth originals, this one written in honor of the late Charlie Weiner) to the jocular treatment of Coltrane’s “Big Nick.” The album concludes with Barth and Nelson performing a duo rendition of “The Song is You,” a charming, intimate close to a masterful CD.
Drummer Dana Hall sparkles throughout — accenting the tunes with fluttering brushwork and flickering cymbals — but no more so than on “Final Push,” where he’s allowed to stretch out. (Barth and Hall have paired up three times before, most recently on trumpeter Terell Stafford’s marvelous This Side of Strayhorn.) And bassist Ben Street, warmly recorded throughout, sounds particularly gorgeous on the purple-toned “Night Shadows,” a tune written by pianist Eri Yamamoto, Barth’s long-term partner.
In keeping with the lavish recordings by Bobby Hutcherson and Cedar Walton, these conversations between piano and vibraphone undulate with heartfelt lyricism and a sense of shared wisdom. The whole group, in fact, sounds so symbiotic that it’s startling to acknowledge this album as the quartet’s debut. Barth and Nelson have recorded together before — first on saxophonist Steve Wilson’s 1993 Blues for Marcus and then on singer Erin Bode’s Don’t Take Your Time from 2003 — so it seems as though they record about every 10 years. One can only hope it won’t take nearly as long for them to wax their next splendid session.