Legendary Saxophonist Gary Bartz Collaborates with Jazz Is Dead’s Adrian Younge & Ali Shaheed Muhammad on ‘Gary Bartz JID006’ (ALBUM REVIEW)

Many musicians in their eighties pare back their activities but this is not the case with the irrepressible progressive Black music icon, Gary Bartz. Just last year he recorded an acclaimed album, Night Dreamer – Direct to Disc Sessions with the funk unit Maisha. IN 2019 he teamed with fellow altoists Vince Herring and Booby Watson in a tribute to Bird with Bird at 100. Of course, long-time jazz buffs recall his late solo albums on Milestone, Another Earth and Libra. He continued in that spiritual vein when working with McCoy Tyner on Focal Point and Sama Layuca and boasts a formidable catalog as a leader that stretches now into its sixth decade. Bartz’s s collaboration with the new generation represented by Jazz Is Dead’s Adrian Younge and Ali Shaheed Muhammad, which inevitably led to Gary Bartz JID006 kicks off 2021 for Jazz Is Dead.

Admittedly, this writer is late to Jazz Is Dead (JID) who issued five recordings in their inaugural year of 2020. The concept is to pair the two contemporary producers with a series of revered jazz musicians, in a bid to create fresh tracks that employ the same original vintage recording equipment the ensemble cast used back in the ’60s and ’70s. Los Angeles-based Younge has a reputation for coating his music with a gritty veneer—his personal discography includes Something About April, a soundtrack to a non-existent ’60s blaxploitation flick. As a member of A Tribe Called Quest, Shaheed Muhammad became renowned for the way the group skillfully repurposed deep jazz loops into golden era hip-hop tracks. Jazz Is Dead has issued recordings with Roy Ayers, Marcos Valle, Azymuth, Doug Carn, and several others.

They intend to build on this strong momentum by kicking off 2021 with Bartz, a hero that spans generations, respected for his passionate approach, pure tone, and above all his bent for experimentation. Beyond what’s mentioned in the opening paragraph consider Bartz’s body of work which includes bebop, hard bop, free jazz, spiritual jazz, soul jazz, jazz-funk, fusion and acid jazz. There’s early work with Eric Dolphy and McCoy Tyner in Charles Mingus’ Jazz Workshop, work with Max Roach and Abbey Lincoln, a stint in Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, and one with Miles. There’s his groundbreaking and highly influential Ntu Troop albums of the early ‘70s and his jazz-funk work including two classic albums with the Mizell Brothers, one of which supplied A Tribe Called Quest with a sample that was smooth like butter. And while about samples, the Bartz catalog has provided hip-hop and other genres with a rich source of them, and artists who have gone to his well when producing beats also include Black Sheep, Jurassic 5, Casual, RPM, Warren G, Photek, Statik Selektah, Chi-Ali, 3rd Bass, Showbiz, Z-Trip, Young Disciples, and many others.

The socio-political content of much of Bartz’s work, particularly during the early ‘70s, is another influential factor. He was wide awake to social causes long before the term “woke” was ever coined. Check out his two Harlem Bush Music albums from 1970 and 71. “Working with Gary Bartz epitomizes the ethos behind Jazz Is Dead,” says Younge. “He’s a luminary that has contributed so much to music culture, for decades.  His musical ability is expanding with age and we’re honored to be a part of his world. 

The opener “Spiritual Ideation” evokes the overall vibe of 1975’s classic Mizell-produced The Shadow Do album in some of the chord structures but rings with the JID signature sound. Bartz’s tone and phrasing is instantly recognizable and sits on top of the Younge/Muhammad-produced backing as snugly as it did on the Mizells’ groove 45 years ago. “Black And Brown” takes us back to those classic extended ‘70s fusion jams condensed down to its most intense just-under-three-minutes with Bartz blowing freely, naturally, and blissfully. 

“Day By Day” brings Bartz a more contemporary context which he contributed to creating in the first place. It takes certain sonic cues from Muhammad’s old group, A Tribe Called Quest, while also calling to mind neo-soul a little bit. The surprise here is the unexpected and gorgeous vocal chorus. and which once again harks back to an element familiar to Mizell fans. With its propulsive bassline “The Message” is strongly rooted in classic ‘70s modal jazz and serves as the spiritual and emotional centerpiece of the album. The instrumental interplay and textures would have been perfectly at home on the Black Jazz label even though there’s also a certain almost intangible postmodern, 21st century approach to that style, perfectly in keeping with Bartz’s progressive tendencies.

Bartz, who this writer saw perform at the 2019 Newport Jazz Festival, remains spry and energetic at age 80.  There he performed a to-die-for performance, the fiftieth anniversary of Another Earth with original member Charles Tolliver and Nasheet Waits (son of Freddie Waits), alongside Ravi Coltrane (rather incredibly, Bartz’s first appearance at Newport). This new collaboration with Jazz Is Dead is further glorious proof of Bartz’s thriving pulse. What sounded great 50 years ago sounds equally as vital as Bartz effortlessly interfaces with the next generation. 


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