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John La Barbera: Grooveyard


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Jazz has long been blessed by a sizable number of sibling musicians. Most notably, there are the Joneses (Hank, Elvin and Thad), the Montgomerys (Wes, Buddy and Monk), the Mangiones (Chuck and Gap), the Heaths (Jimmy, Percy and Albert “Tootie" Heath), the Turrentines (Stanley and Tommy), the Adderleys (Cannonball and Nat), the Youngs (Lester and Lee), the Candolis (Pete and Conte), the Breckers (Michael and Randy) and the Marsalises (Branford, Wynton, Delfeayo and Jason Marsalis).

Add to the list the La Barberas (John, Joe and Pat). Joe is best known for playing drums with the last Bill Evans Trio, Pat is best known for his work on tenor saxophone with the Buddy Rich Big Band between 1967 and 1973 and with Elvin Jones, and John is best known for his spectacular arrangements for Rich, many of which remained in the ban's “book" until the end, including Best of the West and Space Shuttle.

Now, John has a great new album out—Grooveyard—for which he composed, arranged, assembled an all-star big band and conducted. Best of all, his brothers, Pat and Joe, joined him. The band features John Chudoba, Brian Pareschi, Brandon Lee and Clay Jenkins (tp); Ryan Keberle, Mike Davis, Sara Jacovino and David Taylor (tb); Steve Wilson and Erica Von Kleist (as,fl); Pat La Barbera (ts); Sam Sadigursky (ts,cl); Andy Gutauskas (bs,bass cl); Juan Ruiz (cl); Renee Rosnes (p,keyboards); Brandon Coleman (g); Rufus Reid (acoustic b); Frank Gravis (elec. b); Joe La Barbera (d) and Kiko Sebrian (perc).

The songs are Carl Perkins's Grooveyard, John La Barbera's My New Summer Samba, Dave Brubeck's For Iola, John La Barbera's Thanks Hank, Tranesome, Choro Para Thiago, K's Delight and Mandatory Blues, Curtis Fuller's Sweetness and Elvin Jones's Keiko's Birthday March.

John's arrangements are smart and punchy, and the solos are sharp and soulful. Unlike many big bands today, there are no long-winded solos to eat up time. John's arrangements are compact. Each was written with a narrative in mind, and they each build to a peak and resolve wonderfully.

Among the gems here is Thanks Hank, John's sly tribute to Henry Mancini. If you're a Mancini fan, you'll hear plenty of musical winks and nods along the way. Also special is K's Delight, a tip of the trumpet to Kenny Dorham with an Una Mas flavor, and Keiko's Birthday March, which features Joe and Pat La Barbera and Clay Jenkins. For Iola has a particularly lovely arrangement, featuring a soprano saxophone solo by Pat, a piano solo by Renee and unison flutes backing them.

In all honesty, there isn't a bad track or note on this album. All of the arrangements grab and hold you, and the solos are seasoned and purposeful. 

JazzWax tracks: You'll find John La Barbera's Grooveyard (Origin) here (to buy) and here (to listen, or seek out the album on Spotify and other streaming platforms).

JazzWax clips: Here's the title track...

And here's Thanks Hank...

Bonus: Here's John La Barbera's composition and arrangement of Space Shuttle for Buddy Rich on Rich's Stick It album recorded in 1972, with a guitar solo by Walt Namuth...

Here's Pat La Barbera, taking the first tenor saxophone solo, on John La Barbera's arrangement of his composition Backwoods Sideman in London in 1973...

Here's Pat soloing on Buddy Rich's West Side Story medley at London's Talk of the Town in 1969...

Here's Joe La Barbera playing drums with pianist Bill Evans and bassist Marc Johnson at the Maintenance Shop in Ames, Iowa, in January 1979...

Here's another, this one from Rome later in 1979, on a close-out rendition of My Romance....

And finally, here's John conducting the La Barbera Brothers Big Band in Japan in 2013. They are playing his arrangement of his composition Dancing Men. Pat takes the tenor saxophonist solo and Joe is on drums...

Continue Reading...

This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
Copyright © 2024. All rights reserved.

Track Listing

Grooveyard; My New Summer Samba; For Iola; Thanks Hank; Tranesome; Choro Para Thiago; K’s Delight; Mandatory Blues; Sweetness; Keiko’s Birthday March.


John La Barbera
composer / conductor
Steve Wilson
saxophone, alto
Pat La Barbera
Sam Sadigursky
saxophone, alto
Andy Gutauskas
John Chudoba
Brandon Lee
Clay Jenkins
Ryan Keberle
Mike Davis
Sara Jacovino
Rufus Reid
bass, acoustic
Frank Gravis
bass, electric
Additional Instrumentation

Steve Wilson: flute; Erika Von Kleist: flute; Pat La Barbera: soprano saxophone; Sam Sadigursky: clarinet; Andy Gutauskas: bass clarinet; Juan Ruiz: clarinet (6); Brian Pareschi: Lead (7,9); Mike Davis: Lead (7); Renee Rosnes: keyboards;

Album information

Title: Grooveyard | Year Released: 2023 | Record Label: Origin Records





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