In the early 1970s there was fusion and there was Gary Bartz Ntu Troop
. After paying his dues in bands led by Charles Mingus
, Max Roach
and Art Blakey
, Bartz made a splash in 1969 with his sophomore album, Another Earth
(Milestone), a genius blend of spiritual jazz, space jazz and down and dirty blues. On it, Bartz was joined by tenor saxophonist Pharoah Sanders
, trumpeter Charles Tolliver
, pianist Stanley Cowell
, bassist Reggie Workman
and drummer Freddie Waits
. Heavy company.
After a brief spell with Miles Davis
' electric band, with whom he is featured on Live-Evil
(Columbia, 1971), Bartz split to form NTU Troop. The group, usually configured as a quartet or quintet with Bartz the sole horn, refined the trajectory set out on Another Earth
by introducing bass guitar in place of double bass and adding hefty doses of funk. Afrocentric identity politics and post-John Coltrane
modal jazz jointly shaped Bartz's composing style. NTU Troop's finest moments in the studio were 1971's Harlem Bush Music: Taifa
and Harlem Bush Music: Uhuru
(both Milestone), which featured singer Andy Bey
, and were dedicated to the memories of Coltrane and Malcolm X. But subsequent albums continued to hit the spot, too.
Bartz is still making gritty, galvanising, spiritual jazz fifty years on. In 2020 he released Night Dreamer Direct To Disc Sessions
(Night Dreamer) with London spiritual jazz band Maisha
. In 2021 he released Jazz Is Dead 6
(Jazz Is Dead) with Ali Shaheed Muhammad
and Adrian Younge
The 2xCD set Live In Bremen 1975
comes from a winter 1975 European tour and was recorded for broadcast by Germany's Radio Bremen. Audio quality is excellent. Bartz leads a groovalicious quartet completed by keyboardist Chris Mims, electric bassist Curtis Robertson and drummer Howard King. The set list includes some previously unrecorded tunes but in the main revisits NTU Troop favourites "Celestial Blues" and "Uhuru Sasa" from the aforementioned Harlem Bush Music: Uhuru
, and from I've Known Rivers And Other Bodies
(Prestige, 1973), "Sifa Zote," "Peace And Love" and "Ju Ju Man," the last inspired by Coltrane's 1965 Impulse suite A Love Supreme
Bartz's saxophones wail throughout. His playing combines the cerebral and visceral, a mix which gives it lasting appeal, and his composing is similarly thoughtful and soulful. The music is in the main instrumental and with Andy Bey gone, vocals are down to Bartz. The Vietnam War protest song "Uhuru Sasa" and Langston Hughes-derived "I've Known Rivers" are highlights. The band stays on the good foot throughout, dialling down only the closing ballad, the Isley Brothers' "For The Love Of You." So it is something of a mystery why Bartz dissolved NTU Troop shortly after the European tour. As in quit while you are ahead maybe. Anyway, as a swan song, things do not get much better than NTU Troop Live In Bremen 1975
. Mims went on to join Patrice Rushen
, Robertson joined Lou Rawls
and King joined Roberta Flack, class acts all.
P.S. Radio Bremen's tape archive is lately proving to be the source of some outstanding live jazz from back in the day. The 2xCD set Charles Mingus @ Bremen 1964 & 1975
(Sunnyside, 2020) is essential Mingus. We should stay tuned.
CD1: Medley: Nation Time/ Juju Man; Medley: Rise / Celestial Blues / The Sounding Song / Incident / Uhuru Sasa; I’ve Known Rivers. CD2: Sweet Tooth; Medley: Peace And Love / Sifa Zote; For The Love Of You.
Gary Bartz: alto saxophone, soprano saxophone, vocals; Chris Mims: piano, Fender Rhodes, synthesizer; Curtis Robertson: electric bass, backing vocals; Howard King: drums.