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The Joe La Barbera Quintet: Silver Streams

Nicholas F. Mondello By

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If there is a stream of any kind that runs through Silver Streams by The Joe La Barbera Quintet, it is the flow of energy—intense to the point of ignition—that is tapped. No meandering "Old Man River," this team drinks from the source with gusto and unified creativity. That shouldn't be a surprise, since La Barbera and his mates—each a Los Angeles first call musician—have performed together for decades.

La Barbera, one-third of a celebrated jazz family, with brothers saxophonist Pat La Barberaand composer/arranger/educator John La Barbera, is one of the busiest, most respected and beloved drummers in the business. He's performed worldwide with singer Tony Bennett, pianist Bill Evans and others in the jazz pantheon. Here he takes the leader's role and performs with his usual meticulous time, brilliant cymbal and set work and total immersion into the creative forces around him.

The eight selections, all superb originals, provide a diverse platform from which frontline performers and rhythm section deliver. The groove gamut is covered from classic hard bop ("Afluencia," "E.J.'s Blues") and straight-ahead stroll ("Bradley's, 2 AM?") to Frank Zappa-esque quirk ("Bite Your Grandmother"). Throughout the session the intensity and creative energy never let up.

The interplay between these superb players, elegantly subtle at times and in-your-face intense at others, is a joy. Front-liners Bob Sheppard (saxophones) and Clay Jenkins (trumpet) deliver ideas and interpretations which flitter back and forth with little or no regard for their respective instruments' limitations. Each pushes the other's envelope relentlessly, but never in a competitive manner.

Sheppard's saxophones blow from the serene ("Jade Visions") to sublime ("Grace"). His is a creative approach of sustained surprise and rhythmic invention. Jenkins, playing in a highly stylized manner, unabashedly channels Miles Davis and startles with his sound, technical gymnastics, lyric lines and utterly intelligent approach. Pianist Bill Cunliffe beautifully explores tonalities from the Impressionist to the post-Modern and bassist Tom Warrington is a rock throughout. The ensemble's moments of freer group play are a veritable highlight show.

Bill Evans talked about a "Universal Mind Force," into which the finest musicians tap. Silver Streams demonstrates what is ultimately possible when five stellar players merge to simultaneously access that force and deliver its awesome power through their magnificent music.


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