Gary Bartz NTU Troop (remastered)
Recorded in performance at the Montreux Jazz Festival; July 7, 1973.
Remastered at Fantasy Studios, Berkeley.
One of the most talented and hard working musicians of the 1970s, Gary Bartz appeared with almost every group vital to the fusion of modern contemporary soul music and jazz. From his experiences with the Miles Davis groups of the early '70s, Bartz rose with confidence to the forefront of the jazz movement, releasing one stellar recording after the next, showing no signs of slowing down into the mid-'70s.
What you hear on I've Known Rivers and Other Bodies is no exception. Here we find Bartz playing some of the best music of his career, blending innovative elements from all genres into one boiling pot and calling it his own. Recorded live before a Montreux festival audience, he and his quartet are in top form. The chemistry between Stafford James and Howard King (on bass and drums respectively) fluctuates between intense and serene, but otherwise provide a solid, reliable backbone to the strength and passion of Bartz's fiery saxophone melodies. A top recording and highly recommended piece to add to any jazz fan's collection.
All Music Guide
Gary Bartz released this live-at-Montreaux album in 1974, a notoriously uncertain time for jazz musicians who were trying to negotiate musical waters being roiled by the popularity of rock, fusion, and funk. The early '70s was by no means devoid of fine releases, but in general there was, it seems, an uncertainty of identity among many musicians during that period. Bartz was a prime example. In this often superb album, we hear plenty of his powerfully soulful and melodic sax playing, but we also hear occasional lapses into weaker material that seemed to be aimed at gaining a wider commercial audience.
Some of the occasionally dated feeling of the album comes from Bartz's vocals, which aren't altogether unsuccessful. On "Ju Ju Man," for example, his singing takes on the quality of a chant, appropriate to the song and its title. "I've Known Rivers," a musical adaptation of the Langston Hughes poem won't ever be held up as a classic vocal performance, but Bartz's voice is carried along nicely by his impressive rhythm section of Howard King, Stafford James and Hubert Eaves, and his attraction to the words of the poem seem sincere. "Don't Fight That Feeling," on the other hand, is the kind of jazz-party tune that we heard too much of at the time. The lyrics and delivery are limp, and Bartz himself seems to fight the feeling of delivering a forced performance.
But the listener who can run this album down will often find that these objections are beside the point when Bartz really lets loose on alto and soprano sax. He has always been one of my favorite players, one who is never afraid to balance his muscular tone with a quality of lyrical song. The comment about "Don't Fight That Feelin'" aside, he also shows on this album that he was capably of delivering the funk without sounding dated at all, as on "Mama's Soul" and "Dr. Follow's Dance." And he goes "outside" to great effect on the powerful "Warrior's Song." In short, "I've Known Rivers" successfully illustrates Bartz's ability to comfortably assimilate a wide variety of styles.
It was that restless search for new sounds, for a new way to assimilate all the possible influences of the day that made the music of Bartz, Joe Henderson and McCoy Tyner, to name three, fascinating to listen to in the '70s. But as "I've Known Rivers" also shows, it was difficult for these musicians to sort out the influences and synthesize them into something completely fresh and new.