The Joe LaBarbera Quintet: Live! (2003)

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The Joe LaBarbera Quintet: Live!
Stung too often by inscrutable contracts and creative bookkeeping, a growing number of jazz musicians are taking matters into their own hands, producing and distributing albums on their own independent labels as an alternative to the bondage in which they’ve long been held by corporate overseers. Four of these artists — trumpeter Clay Jenkins, guitarist Larry Koonse, bassist Tom Warrington and drummer Joe LaBarbera — have come together to form Jazz Compass Records, an online label whose mandate is to “provide the serious listener with outstanding improvisational music,” presented “as they envision it, without compromise.”

This is the second Jazz Compass album I’ve heard, and each of them upholds the admirable standards expressed in that statement. Bassist Warrington, who led the other one ( Corduroy Road ), is a sideman this time with drummer LaBarbera’s quintet, recorded in concert nearly four years ago at Rocco, which I presume is a nightclub somewhere in the US (most probably California). Trumpeter Jenkins is there too, manning the front line with saxophonist Bob Sheppard, while pianist Bill Cunliffe rounds out the rhythm section. This is a roomy blowing session (the seven tracks average around ten minutes apiece) and everyone makes the most of the opportunity to stretch.

LaBarbera opens with engaging tunes by Freddie Hubbard (“On the Q.T.”), Phil Dwyer (“Speak Softly”), Thelonious Monk (“Evidence”), Mal Waldron (“Soul Eyes”) and Sonny Rollins (“East Broadway Rundown”), then wraps things up with his soulful ballad “Kind of Bill (Evans)” and swinging “Message for Art (Blakey).” Cunliffe and Sheppard (soprano) are mesmerizing on “Kind of Bill,” which salutes the drummer’s membership in Evans’ last trio, while LaBarbera is surprisingly reserved on “Blakey,” comping superbly but earmarking no solo space for himself. In fact, LaBarbera solos at length only on “Q.T.,” which he introduces with an exciting two-and-one-half-minute enfilade that prefaces cogent remarks by Cunliffe, Sheppard (tenor) and Jenkins.

Elsewhere, LaBarbera seems content to play a supporting role, which he does extremely well. Warrington, another resourceful cast member, takes an impressive solo on “Speak Softly,” with Sheppard shining again on soprano. Jenkins, whose bright sound and broad vocabulary serve him well, is featured on “Soul Eyes” as Sheppard sits that one out, returning to offer a hot-blooded impression of Rollins on “Rundown.”

This is an admirable quintet, one whose members work extremely well together and have strong voices of their own (but you probably already knew that). The excellent sound and generous 70- minute playing time help make this endorsement clear-cut and simple.

Contact: Jazz Compass, 3115 Foothill Blvd., Suite M235, La Crescenta, CA 91214. Web site, www.jazzcompass.com; e-mail info@jazzcompass.com

Track Listing: On the Q.T.; Speak Softly; Evidence; Soul Eyes; East Broadway Rundown; Kind of Bill (for Bill Evans); Message for Art (for Art Blakey) (70:04).

Personnel: Joe LaBarbera, drums; Clay Jenkins, trumpet; Bob Sheppard, tenor, soprano sax; Bill Cunliffe, piano; Tom Warrington, bass.

Record Label: Jazz Compass

Style: Straight-ahead/Mainstream


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