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Gato Barbieri: In Search of the Mystery

Raul d'Gama Rose By

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Gato Barbieri winds up and uncorks a meandering apocalyptic shout that begins with a growling, sinewy tenor and often returns there via a continuous spiral of bell-like primal screeches. He is probing, poking the tones of the tenor and searching madly for a timbral key to unlock a hidden route to harmonic peace. On this seminal recording—In Search of the Mystery—from Stollman's ESP Disk, not even a year after Barbieri's monumental Cafè© Montmartre sessions with Don Cherry, Karl Berger, Aldo Romano and Bo Stief (ESP Disk, 2009), Barbieri joins John Coltrane, Archie Shepp and Pharoah Sanders in seeking almost spiritual intervention to find the proverbial lost chord.

Here, on "In Search of the Mystery/Michelle," after an arco moan from Calo Scott's cello and a pedal figure from Sirone, Barbieri leads the search blowing almost continuously in counterpoint to Scott's cello. Their playing off each other attains almost mythical proportions. When Barbieri is calling forth muscular notes, and vibrantly colored tones, Scott works his bow high and lonesome, both colliding with and reaching out from contrapuntal points of view into an imaginary bestiary where there is the struggle to crack open that mysterious locked chord. Extra-musically, of course, the title suggests that the musical journey will end when the unknown mystery/harmonic is confronted. And indeed, there appears to be no resolution in sight, just an intense forward motion...ever forward towards the unattainable, it would seem.

Is "Michelle" the song's resolution or merely the key to the mystery? Sirone with great deep pizzicato phrases—and some pedal point direction throughout, and Bobby Kapp's rhythmic mimicking of Barbieri's tenor saxophone, bring an abrupt end to the song—especially a wild flurry of sticks and the gathering rattle of the snare drum. That ellipsis suggests the inconclusive is now complete.

On the second track, "Obsession/Cinemateque"—and there are only two extended songs here—Barbieri appears to let up a little with a major chord to open proceedings, but then shoots up a series of fourths, fifths, sixths and sevenths. Here Barbieri's tenor allows the string players to swirl and swim around Kapp's cymbal swishes, rattling toms, fibrillating snares and his own screeches and snorts. Left to their own devices, both Scott's arco—and sometimes—staccato—passages meander like warp to Sirone's pizzicato weft and the tapestry of the song "Obsession" turns to a darkening moan. These devices—although not deliberate, but supremely organic—are magisterial and the resultant expressionism is positively sublime.

"Obsession/Cinemateque" ends with a rousing drum solo, growing out of the brass of the cymbals, then plummeting into the depths of the bass of the tympanis as the cello swirls madly and fairly free around whatever is left of the melody. Then in energy generated like a vortex, drums and cello draw tenor and bass into the drum-fashioned coda. Thus the picture is complete.

If there are still critics out there, who believe that Gato Barbieri did not come out of the sixties with the same fire as 'Trane et al, this record may change that perception.

Track Listing: In Search of the Mystery/Michelle; Obsession No. 2/Cinemateque.

Personnel: Gato Barbieri: tenor saxophone; Calo Scott: cello; Sirone (Morris Jones): bass; Bobby Kapp: drums.

Title: In Search of the Mystery | Year Released: 2009 | Record Label: ESP Disk


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