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Joe Barna

Jon Gordon

Dave Solazzo

Lou Smaldone

Jon Gardon, Joe Magnarelli

Photos by Rudy Lu

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Bread & Jam Café
Cohoes, NY
April 3, 2010

by J Hunter

Recording in a bar or a restaurant multiplies the usual technical land mines by a factor of 300: Plates and glasses shatter; machines hiss and spit; and the one group of customers who absolutely has to talk while the band’s playing the softest number in the set almost invariably sits under the main microphones. All that’s needed to make the night perfect is someone pulling the fire alarm, or an ambulance rear-ending a dynamite truck right outside the club. That being said, there was really no way Joe Barna could record his first Sketches of Influence disc any way but live, or record it anywhere but the Bread & Jam Café.

All the pieces Barna has written for the various iterations of Sketches were debuted and developed over the last two years on Bread & Jam’s stage, so it only made sense that the music should be recorded where it was nurtured. Saturday night was the closing show of Barna’s 3-night “recording session” with his mix of local heroes and New York heavies, so it was the last night I’d get to hear this band until the disc comes out. (The drop is targeted for sometime this October.) Fortunately I got to the gig early, because I’d forgotten all the seating was reserved. I shared the last table in the place with Dave Perry, who’d arrived in the area that afternoon after driving all the way from Fort Worth, TX. That’s over 1600 miles away, which puts my daily commute from Outer Suburbia firmly into perspective.

The group that took the stage for the opener “Time for Tyner” had played the last show of Sketches’ two-night winter run at Justin’s: Joe Magnarelli and Jon Gordon were on horns and reeds, respectively, while pianist Dave Solazzo and bassist Lou Smaldone held down their usual positions. Gordon played seriously cerebral alto on the mid-tempo bebopper that recalls Dexter Gordon’s “Tania”, while Magnarelli’s trumpet was a Freddie Hubbard fastball thrown right down Broadway. Solazzo’s comps and fills made things even tastier, and his own solo showed respect for (and inspiration from) the Hall of Fame pianist on the song title.

Watching Solazzo develop as a player has been as much fun as watching Barna develop as a leader & composer: The pianist’s lyrical base has been a known factor for quite some time, but Solazzo displayed a new-found aggression during the Justin’s show that made his lines jump even higher than usual. That aggression was definitely in attendance at Bread & Jam, adding welterweight punching power to hard-charging numbers like “Blow It Out” and “Sudden-Lee.” Where Solazzo really shone, though, was when he was in the clear on the ballads “Thank You” and “Ivory Romance.” Both solos had a pastoral, personal sense that blended a classical-music aesthetic with a George Winston “original New Age” vibe. It’s an innovation that adds more throw weight to an already-loaded arsenal.

Speaking of throw weight, Magnarelli and Gordon packed the same mega-tonnage that they brought to Justin’s last January. Their mutual sense of harmony was outstanding, and their Downtown style matched up perfectly with Barna’s musical vision. “If it gets better than these two guys,” Barna enthused, “please let me know where it’s at!” Magnarelli alternated between trumpet and flugelhorn throughout the night, using the latter instrument on easier pieces like the bossa “Teardrops from Home” and the ballad “It’s Only Been a Day.” Although the flugelhorn’s rounder sound helped soften the edges, all of Magnarelli’s lines had undeniable backbone. Meanwhile, Gordon’s alto wound “Maria” and “Brother Steve” up nicely, while his work on soprano was absolutely devastating, particularly on the climax of “Thank You.”

As usual, Smaldone’s phat bass lines have Barna room to stick and move. The thing is, though, other than the occasional punctuation mark and trading crazy 8’s with the front line on “Brother Steve”, Barna chose to let his compositions have center stage; he did, however, bring the big noise on the set-closers “Blow It Out” and “Au Privave.” Like I said, watching the area’s reigning “thunder drummer” develop his leader chops has been an absolute blast, and that arc took another jump up at this show. I do have one question, though:

How many days til October?

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.