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Joe Barna

Lee Russo

Dylan Canterbury

Dave Solazzo

Lou Smaldone

Lee Russo, Scott Hall, Dylan Canterbury

photos by Rudy Lu

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Bread & Jam Café
Cohoes, NY
November 13, 2009

by J Hunter

This was Sketches of Influence’s third appearance since Joe Barna debuted his rotating-cast concept back in April, and the only survivor from that spring show (besides Barna, of course) was reedman Lee Russo; Russo only brought his tenor sax this time, but that was more than enough. Lou Smalldone was handling the bass chores on this evening, and the musical dynamic got a further reboot with pianist Dave Solazzo and horn player Dylan Canterbury stepping into George Muscatello’s spot.

Although Barna had written new material for this gig, some of the April show’s music turned up on Friday evening’s set list… which was not a problem, since that music is pretty damn good: Barna opened with “Brother Steve”, his Mobley-esque tribute to Steve Lambert; “Maria” got a little more Latin flavor with Solazzo in the house; and Mike & Rosemary Latagano were in the house this time when Barna played his tribute to two of the area’s biggest jazz fans, “Thank You.” While the music may have been the same, the arrangements were not. With Canterbury’s addition to the front line, second-horn charts were needed – something Barna admitted he hadn’t had time to write.

However, a good leader knows how to delegate, so Barna brought in composer/arranger Yuko Kishimoto, and she earned her commission in no uncertain terms. Muscatello’s guitar had given Barna’s compositions a ragged edge that was exciting in its own right; with Kishimoto’s arrangements, Rosso and Canterbury’s harmonies were consistently warm and accessible, giving the music a crisp, elegant feel. Between Kishimoto’s arrangements and Barna’s unblinking trust, each front-line player was able to expand on opening themes when their solo spots came up.

And expand they did! Russo’s solos on “Soliloquy for Lou” and “Time for Tyner” (Barna’s tributes to Smalldone and McCoy Tyner, respectively) were deep, rich, and tremendously soulful. The second-generation monster plays all the reeds beautifully, but keeping to one axe on this evening brought consistency to the overall sound while allowing Russo to explore the outside of the tenor’s envelope. Solazzo showed the same fire he breathed during Lambert’s CD-release show the week before: He added a nasty streak to a funked-out expansion of Wayne Shorter’s “Footprints”, and brought the romance to the ballad “It Has Only Been a Day” even as he contributed to the driving center maintained by Smalldone’s Thankgiving-fat bass lines.

As for Canterbury… Well, Barna said it best: “Holy crap! 21 years old!!” That’s right: 21, already graduated from SUNY Purchase, and commuting to gigs in New York City when he’s not playing with Keith Pray’s Big Soul Ensemble. Canterbury’s trumpet on “Tyner” and show-closer “Sonnymoon for Two” had the kind of muscle-car power you associate with Louis Armstrong and Freddie Hubbard, and that power gave his flugelhorn work on “Steve” and “Maria” a crackling energy that transcended the instrument’s softer sound. (“Sonnymoon” came with value added, as BSE bari-saxman Scott Hall joined the band to play passionate tenor sax on the Sonny Rollins classic.)

The way to tell when Barna’s in the groove is not in his playing, but in his eyes and his smile. Both features were sparkling all night long as the mercurial drummer ruffled and flourished with impunity. He brought the thunder, as always, but that made his quiet moments on “Thank You” and the standard “Just Friends” more effective. He also cleared space and directed traffic with aplomb, particularly when the group knitted “Au Privave” and “Take the Coltrane” together to make a dizzying closer for the first set.

Joe Barna has shown tremendous growth in 2009, both as a player and a composer. The thing is, with success comes expectation: Although he got co-leader cred on the Barna/Russo Group’s The Abenaki, and Barna’s music did appear on Michael Benedict’s Jazz Vibes’ The Next Phase, Barna now replaces Steve Lambert in the role of “Hot Capital Region Player who Needs to Make His Own Record!” Of course, there’s a new year coming…

J HUNTER is a former announcer/producer for radio stations in the Capital Region and the Bay Area, including KSJS/San Jose (where he was Assistant Music Director/Jazz Programming) and Q104 WQBK/Albany. He is a frequent contributor to the web site All About Jazz and to the monthly music magazine State of Mind. He currently resides in Clifton Park.