Gary Bartz I've Known Rivers And Other Bodies Review

Album. Released 2003.  

BBC Review

Long lost classic from the underrated alto saxophonist emerges from the vaults.

Peter Marsh 2003

Though much of altoist Gary Bartz's seventies output has been reissued, this live date from the 1973 Montreux festival has remained as rare as rocking horse droppings until now.

Still probably best known as Wayne Shorter's replacement in Miles Davis' early 70's band, Bartz's fruity tone and generous, emotional approach provided a perfect foil to the leaders oblique trumpet stylings. Though initially inspired by Charlie Parker, Bartz eventually proved himself to be one of the few alto saxophonists to successfully draw on John Coltrane's legacy.

This was never more apparent than in the output of Ntu Troop, who mixed the questing improvisations of Coltrane's late period with funk and soul influences and no-nonsense political messages, delivered in short, snappy songs by vocalist Andy Bey. For this date, Bey was replaced by pianist Hubert Eaves and Bartz takes up vocal duties. Though he's not much of a singer, if you're like me you might prefer his unadorned, slightly breathless style to Bey's more mannered delivery.

But it's Bartz's saxophone that's the main voice here. Buoyed up by Eaves' modal splashes on acoustic or electric piano, the leader fires off long, impassioned solo statements equally informed by head and heart. Stylistically the music ranges from Coltrane-esque vamps to greasyR'n'B and straightahead swing; of note are the airy latin groove of the title track (later covered by Courtney Pine) and the huge slab of electric funk that is "Dr Follow's Dance", featuring rare wah-wah sax acrobatics.

Bartz's dedications to Malcolm X and Coltrane give some indication of the band's political and musical intent. Though some of the lyrics seem a bit ripe some 30 years on, the anti-Vietnam message of "Uhuru Sasa" still packs a punch.

Though later in his career Bartz would make more concerted stabs at commercial success (with some dire results), I've Known Rivers & Other Bodiesmakes for a pretty sweet blend of the accessible and the exploratory. Judging by the audience's reaction (who had earlier been bludgeoned into submission by Miles in his Dark Magus period) they thought so too. This was one of those nights when it all came together; "we were all proud of each other that night", recalls Bartz. They had every right to be.

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