Monday, February 20, 2006

Gary Bartz - Juju Street Songs

Juju Street Songs
Prestige 10057

Recorded 1972

1. I Wanna Be Where You Are
2. Black Maybe
3. Bertha Baptist
4. Africans Unite
5. Teheran


GARY BARTZ; alto & soprano sax, percussion
ANDY BEY; electric piano, percussion, vocals
STAFFORD JAMES; bass, percussion
HOWARD KING; drums, percussion

NTU Troop was Gary Bartz' solo vehicle of the early 1970s. It was the first group he led, and allowed him the freedom to incorporate his myriad influences into the post-bop/fusion template bequeathed to him by former bosses Art Blakey and Miles Davis. This record taps into the currents of 'world-fusion' that were circulating at the time of it's birth, throws in a dash of afrocentrism, and combines them with down'n'dirty street funk to create an intriguing musical hybrid.

Opener 'I wanna be where you are' sets the pace - Bartz' sax dripping in effects and a loose-limbed rhythm section blending elements of calypso and funk into an infectious groove. Stevie Wonder's 'Black Maybe', and side 2's 'Africans Unite' get similar treatment. 'Bertha Baptist' is the beating jazz heart of the album, the point where Bartz shows us what he's learned as apprentice to the master jazzmen of the 1960s. And then my personal favourite, 'Teheran', with it's middle-eastern influence, Bartz' sax sounding like a snake charmer over the polyrhythmic backing of King.

It all sounds familiar now - world fusion has been done a few times (although not always so successfully) - but at the time Bartz took a critical pasting over music such as this. "It's not jazz", they cried (as they often do). But listen - here's an album of great, improvised instrumental music that's not afraid to think for itself and explore new sonic territories. How much more jazz can you get?

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