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Joe Barna

Joe Magnarelli & Jon Gordon

Lou Smaldone

Dave Solazzo

Dylan Canterbury & Joe Magnarelli

Lou Smaldone & Jon Gordon

Photos by Andrzej Pilarczyk

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Albany, NY
January 16, 2010

by J Hunter

The last time I filled my notebook with unintelligible scribbling, I was sipping on a glass of wine and watching Dylan Canterbury play big-time trumpet with Joe Barna’s Sketches of Influence. Pianist Dave Solazzo was flexing the muscular streak he’d shown with Steve Lambert’s sextet at A Place For Jazz; Lou Smalldone was serving up Thanksgiving-fat bass lines, and Barna’s eyes were bright as stars as he sat behind his kit and brought the thunder whenever the situation required it. It was a good end to a bad decade… although spending half that decade writing for this site took the edge off a lot of bad juju.

So there I was on another Saturday night, sipping on a glass of wine and watching Canterbury tear it up again with Sketches of Influencde. Solazzo was hitting it like a big hammer, Lou’s bass burned right down the middle, and Barna’s eyes could have doubled as searchlights. (And yes, my notebook was filled with barely-legible ramblings – again.) But here’s where the déjà vu ends: Instead of the funky high-ceilinged hall that is Bread & Jam Café, I was in the warm chocolate alleyway that is Justin’s dining room/concert space. And while Canterbury was onstage all night at Bread & Jam with tenorman Lee Russo, Dylan only made a cameo appearance at Justin’s, because the front line was staffed by two New York players who came fired up and ready to kill.

This was the closing show of Barna’s two-night stand at Justin’s, and while reed player Jon Gordon worked both shows, the horn chair was filled by a tag team – Jim Rotondi had the duty for the sold-out Friday show, while Joe Magnarelli played on this evening. I was familiar with Rotondi because of Blues for Brother Ray (Posi-Tone, 2009), his heartfelt tribute to ex-leader Ray Charles. All I knew about Magnarelli was what I saw, which was that the personable, curly-haired horn player looked like Brendan Fraser’s much bigger brother as he stepped onstage, wearing an un-tucked purple dress shirt and black pants. Then Barna counted off “Brother Steve”, and all semi-funny movie-star jokes were shelved for the duration.

“Brother” is based on Hank Mobley’s “This I Dig of You”, so hard-bop attitude is a must. No worries there, as Gordon and Magnarelli were on the melody like white on rice. Gordon caught the first solo, playing bright, lively alto that only needed to touch the high end once because everything in the middle tasted amazing. Magnarelli came next, and the only way you could get anything purer than his tone was to drink spring water directly from the rock. This was muscle-car powerful trumpet, as trad as a single-breasted suit, and Magnarelli simply torched it. Solazzo took some big swings of his own, and then the front line played smoking call-and-answer over his brilliant piano fills. It was a heck of a tone-setter, and that tone stayed steady for two great sets.

The best thing about Barna’s rotating-cast concept for Sketches is that each successive lineup finds new things to say (and play) about the catalog Barna is building. As such, this front line accentuated the Carnaval aspect of the bossa “Maria”, while Gordon deepened the loss inherent in “It has Only Been a Day.” Of the new stuff, “Teardrops from Heaven” brought the bossa once again, while Gordon’s soprano sax worked perfectly off of Solazzo’s in-the-clear intro to “Ivory Romance” (written for – and with – Lee Shaw). The aforementioned intro let Solazzo show his expressive side, but for the most part, he was sticking and moving on the percussive end for everything else. Given the aggressive approach Magnarelli and Gordon brought to the date, this iteration of Sketches punched like a heavyweight all night long, spurring a pumped-up Barna to declare that “This is the best band I’ve ever had!”

I mentioned Canterbury only had a cameo, but that cameo kicked serious butt as he joined the front line for the 2nd-set closer “Take the Coltrane.” Magnarelli and Gordon had scorched the place on the 1st-set-closing standard “My Shining Hour”, and their performance on “Coltrane” was no different. The headline here is that Canterbury stood toe-to-toe with them, played his usual weapons-grade trumpet, and came off just as powerful, just as self-assured. If this kid starts writing his own stuff, he’s going to be dangerous.

Joe Barna already is dangerous on many levels. He had New York cats playing his stuff on this night, and the crowd dug every second of it. Now that’s déjà vu I can believe in!

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.