Open the Gates
is a prime example of world class jazz musicians "keeping the flame" across the country in this case, pianist Kenny Gates and tenor saxophonist Bootsie Barnes. Gates burns and swings his way through his debut CD, ably abetted by Barnes, drummer Billy James and bassist Lee Smith. Gates, a protege of the bebop guru Barry Harris, originally hailed from Brooklyn but has adopted Philadelphia as his home town (or is it vice versa?).
As anyone who has touched a piano knows, it's easy to sound notes. Therefore it is refreshing to find a pianist who is not in love with notes for their own sake (like some long winded speaker) and whose interpretive talent befits the magnificence of the instrument. Mr. Gates has an instantly recognizable articulation, and you could swear (as in "People Will Say We're In Love") that he's talking to you. His fills, as on "Pannonica," are not just neighboring scale tones, but parenthetical asides that display a brilliant awareness of the intricacies of bop. As a protege of Barry Harris, he must have met Baroness Nica many times before she passed away, and the ballad floats with the lyric beauty that she possessed.
Swing is the thing in jazz, and this is a constant on Open the Gates, manifested on "First Time Ever," where the blues hits you hard, in a boppish mode, both in Gates' and Barnes' solos and the steady rock of the rhythm section. Jazz lovers will welcome their delightful version of "Beatrice," a seldom heard Sam Rivers gem, and the Young/Dietz standard "Weaver of Dreams," where a cool bossa groove provides soothing rhythmic contrast.
At times, unfortunately, the bass is too loud; the piano's upper register is projected minimally due to faulty mixing; the drums lower register is not heard in depth; and the tone quality of the reproduction is on the shallow side. However, these technical deficiencies are more than made up for by Gates' authentic and unique voice on the piano. The ability to interpret a standard in a fresh way is a decisive factor in an important talent, and Gates' "People Will Say We're In Love," with its irrepressible gaiety, fast lines delivered with a clear sense of the 'slow' underneath, reveals him to be a mature musician with a winning style.
Bootsie Barnes' accomplished improvisation and handsome, big and bold tenor tone on "Whatever Possessed Me," "Beatrice," and "Weaver of Dreams" are welcome additions to the saxophone landscape.
The second version of "First Time Ever" is slower but swings just the same with completely different solos, the blues being an endless treasurehouse in the hands of the right people giving exposure to Barry Harris' little known virtues as a composer. Indeed, few artists who came of age after the mid-'70s could find a groove like the one in the second take of "First Time Ever."
Clearly a keeper of the bebop flame, Mr. Gates charms the ear with lyric sensitivity of his solo in "Pannonica," bluesy boppish ruminating on "First Time Ever," and passion on uptempos like "People Will Say We're In Love." The only appropriate response after hearing Open the Gates is a resounding "Keep 'em open, Gates!"
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Personnel: Kenny Gates, Piano; Bootsie Barnes, Tenor saxophone; Lee Smith, Bass; Billy James, Drums