Shortly before the COVID pandemic went full force lockdown, Troy, New York drummer Joe Barna and his group, "Sketches of Influence" recorded this live album at the Middle C Jazz Club in Charlotte, North Carolina. The audience that evening was either the most polite as listeners, or, more likely they were taken up by the killer performance of this ensemble. This album verifies the latter.
The performance offers six extended tracks, all Barna originals. The opener, "The Grind" is an acid burner that has a blue-ish joy about it. Sax man Stacy Dillard makes a muscular statement and then it is off to the races. The laid back take on "Oh Feline, I'm Glad You're Mine" is another joy, offering a lilting melody that as tasty as it is infectious.
As a composer, Barna has great affinity for the thematics and textures of the hard bop era of Blue Note Records, and, that permeates his compositions and lathers the entirety of the session. Each track on this album is a lengthy exercise in superior jazz playing and intense communication between these fine musicians. Drummer Barna drives and teases without being overbearing and Whitfield and Gardener shine throughout the evening. Great sensitivity is presented on "A Children's Song," superbly delivered by Whitfield's keys and Otto Gardner's bass before Dillard's lovely presentation and a marvelous Gardner solo. The musicianship here is startlingly beautiful. "The Return of Shah" features Whitfield's McCoy Tyner-esque opening statement before Dillard and the crew dig in. Barna's playing on this cut and the session is outstanding. "Living Without You" follows a similar structure with Dillard speaking a monologue preceding a gorgeous ballad. The evening concludes with "Nine Maple Syrup," a tune somewhat reminiscent of a Vince Guaraldi boogaloo. There's lots of animation there.
The Grind is assuredly going to make listeners yearn for clubs and live jazz again. Until then, it is a superior alternative.
The Grind, Oh Feline, I'm Glad You're Mine, A Children's Song, The Return of Shah, Living
Without You, Nine Maple Syrup.