Serious craftsmen in most occupations tend to shun the spotlight. This is also true of pianist Bruce Barth. Although he leads his own trio on this live recording, he maintains a workmanlike approach, eschewing fireworks for a solid performance.
Maybe it is his role as long time accompanist for singers such as Carla Cook, Laverne Butler, Dominique Eade, and Rene Martin that keeps Barth from flashy displays of technique. Or maybe he’s just a consummate professional playing jazz, not unlike Tommy Flanagan, Ella Fitzgerald’s longtime accompanist.
Together with drumming legend Al Foster and bassist Ugonna Okegwo (Jackie Terrasson, Tom Harrell, and David Berkman), Barth satisfies the Village Vanguard audience with a mixture of original compositions and covers of classics. The middle of this recording and heart of Barth’s touch comes from three Thelonious Monk tunes. While Barth doesn’t share Thelonious’ angularity, he does manifest a thorough understanding of the late master's compositions. He plays with a suave, almost California approach to Monk. Nothing is forced as the trio adds a bit of funk to “Let’s Get This” and they round “San Francisco Holiday” into a comfortable swing. Barth takes on the difficult “Evidence” solo applying two-handed runs with such casual force; he makes the work seem effortless.
Other highlights include Barth’s up-tempo version of “In The Still Of The Night,” with his skating and dodging references to the melody; and the sweetness of his originals, which have a distinct Bill Evans sentimentality.
The discerning audiences of the Village Vanguard know their jazz and they certainly appreciated the solid effort put forth by this trio.