Soul Brother has given us a long overdue compilation of Gary Bartz's experimental jazz material from the 1970s, beginning with his classic Harlem Bush Music albums, Taifa and Uhuru from 1970 and 1971, with his band NTU Troop. While it's impossible to overstate the influence his brief tenure with Miles Davis had on him (Bartz is featured on the Live-Evil recordings), the saxophonist and composer was exploring other avenues of creative black music as well, from funk to soul to the blues. The 12 cuts here begin with the sublime "Celestial Blues," from that seminal NTU Troop debut set. The band included vocalist/keyboardist Andy Bey, bassist Ron Carter, drummer Harold White, and percussionist Nat Bettis in the mix. Following is "Uhuru Sasa," with a killer call-and-response vocal from Bartz and Bey, and "Drinking Song," which similarly follows suit but with a fiery, deep solo from Bartz. "Dr. Follow's Dance" from Follow the Medicine Man marks the accent on the blistering electric funk groove. Bey left the band and was replaced by Hubert Eaves, II, who added a smoother, more R&B-oriented dimension to the band's sound. "I've Known Rivers" is from the live set of the same name, with Stafford James on bass and Eaves on acoustic and electric piano, and melds soul, R&B, and Native American folk music with Bartz's post-Coltrane modal sensibilities. Bartz's vocal is just beautiful and inspiring here. The transition is complete with "I Wanna Be Where You Are," written by T-Boy Ross and Leon Ware. Spacey for Marvin Gaye, slippery, shimmering, and utterly in the pocket, it winds through the entire history of black music to execute its popping ethereal groove. There are also tracks here from Juju Man and the rare Shadow Do ("Sea Gypsy"/"Gentle Smiles"). The disc's final two offerings come from Bartz's Blue Note album, Music Is My Sanctuary, which was produced by Larry Mizell; these include the title track and "Carnaval de l'Espirit." What is notable about these final two songs is their utter abandonment of the jazz fake-book (even with a very large - 17 piece - band) for urban soul. The late vocalist Syreeta Wright is present on these tunes, as are Wah Wah Watson, Mtume, and Eddie Henderson. These last two selections are the bookends that show just how far Bartz had traveled on his journey, always keeping melody, harmony, and innovative rhythmic and modal ideas at the center of his aesthetic. Anthology is highly recommended for a slim but nonetheless dynamite portrait of the artist during one of the most exciting periods of his career.
- Thom Jurek (All Music Guide)