Gato Barbieri

Argentine saxophonist Gato Barbieri splashed into the European-American avant garde jazz scene in the mid 1960s. His sax playing is unmistakeable, wild and full. He found his voice bringing the percussion and rhythms of South America into his music; while his focus was more cultural than spiritual, his association with keyboardist Lonnie Liston Smith brought his music into the cauldron of musical ferment centered around Pharoah Sanders. It should be suggested that the Indian (native American, that is) and Afro-Brazilian rhythms infused into Gato Barbieri's music all had their roots in indigenous religion.

Barbieri has had several distinct phases in his career: first, as an avant gardist (mid-1960s); second--his most "kozmigroov" period if you will--incorporating "third world" roots, culture, spirituality, and politics (late '60s/early '70s); third as a reasonably succesful pop jazz artist (late '70s/early '80s); fourth as an artist struggling to reestablish an identity (1980s); and finally, in 1997, a return to pop jazz. If my own favorite period is the second, none are completely without merit: his tenor sound is so full of personality and identity it remains compelling even as the material veers to shlock.

(Italian label) 1960/1998. Produced by ?

Capsule Info: Recorded in Italy in 1960, released on CD (repackaged?) in 1998, I've seen but not heard this.

Blue Note 1966. Produced by Alfred Lion.

Capsule Info: An avant-garde summit.

Blue Note 1966. Produced by Alfred Lion?

Capsule Info: I've not heard this.

ESP Records 1967. Produced by Gato Barbieri.

Capsule Info: I've not heard this in years. I remember it to be quite screechy in that way only ESP Records can be. Not necessarily a bad thing, mind you.

Gato Barbieri: OBSESSION
Affinity 1967. Produced by ?

Capsule Info: I've not heard this.

1967, reissued on One-Way. Produced by Brad McCuen.

Capsule Info: More of the Bley/Mantler avant garde bigband thing; fronted by Gary Burton. Gato's in the horn orchestra. This stuff is ok but if Gato had stayed doing this kind of music I wouldn't have done a website page on him.

Gato Barbieri and Dollar Brand (Abdullah Ibrahim): CONFLUENCE
Arista/Freedom 1968. Produced by ?

Capsule Info: I've not heard this in years.

1968 JCOA Records/ECM. Produced by Michael Mantler.

Capsule Info: Creative music; one of the classic avant garde big bands.

Gato Barbieri: TWO PICTURES: YEARS 1965--1968
1968 Liuto Records. Music by Piero Umiliani.

Capsule Info: I've not seen this.

Alan Shorter: ORGASM
Verve 1968. Produced by Esmond Edwards.

Capsule Info: Wayne Shorter's brother's solo album, out yet accessible. Gato sounds great although his own voice is not yet there, and the "third world" component is still missing.

Gato Barbieri: THIRD WORLD
Flying Dutchman 1970/BMG 1995. Produced by Bob Thiele.

Capsule Info: Well established by now as one of those 1960s tenor sax screechers--albeit with a very distinctive voice--this seems to be the album in which Gato forged his own true identity. The latin influences surface; the percussionists increase in importance; Lonnie Liston Smith's piano is thunderous, and all of a sudden here's the Gato Barbieri I love the best. This is the first of a cycle of albums for former Impulse! producer Bob Thiele's Flying Dutchman label. These albums are all wonderful.

Impulse! Records 1970. AS-9183. Produced by Charlie Haden.

Capsule Info: Resurrecting music from the right side (or should I say Left side?) of the Spanish Civil War, Charlie Haden's late'60s political statement expressed through the medium of avant garde bigband. OK for bigband music. Nice 20-bit CD.

Gato Barbieri: EL PAMPERO
Flying Dutchman 1971/BMG 1995. Produced by Bob Thiele.

Capsule Info: Recorded live at Montreux in 1971. This album features Nana Vasconcelos on the berimbau, a percussion instrument associated with Capoeira, the martial art of Afro-Brazilian candomble.

Gato Barbieri: BOLIVIA
Flying Dutchman 1971/BMG 1995. Produced by Bob Thiele.

Capsule Info: Lots of percussion and experiments with native rhythms like his later work for Impulse!.

Gato Barbieri: FENIX
Flying Dutchman 1971. Produced by Bob Thiele.

Capsule Info: Over persistant congas and wonderful piano, Gato's trademark sound is all over the place. Caribbean and Brazilian rhythms predominate. A great album.

Oliver Nelson: SWISS SUITE
Flying Dutchman 1971. Produced by Bob Thiele.

Capsule Info: Recorded live at Montreux, 1971, the same evening as Leon Thomas' GOLD SUNRISE ON MAGIC MOUNTAIN and Gato Barbieri's EL PAMPERO. The three Nelson standards don't feature Gato, but the side-long "Swiss Suite" features Gato soloing against a blaring orchestra in a work that covers the jazz spectrum from straight ahead blues to a conga-driven Afro-Latin smoker.

Theresa Brewer: SINGIN' A DOO DAH SONG
Flying Dutchman 1972. Produced by Bob Thiele.

Capsule info: I guess if you're married to Flying Dutchman president Bob Thiele, as Brewer was, you can get whoever the heck you want on your record! So he gave her his whole stable. The liner notes suggest vocal legend Leon Thomas is also featured as percussionist on the song featuring Gato Barbieri as soloist. "Vahevala" is the Loggins & Messina pop tune, and Brewer renders it ingenuously.

Original Soundtrack: LAST TANGO IN PARIS
United Artists 1972/1973; Rykodisc/MGM 1998. Produced by Alberto Grimaldi.

Capsule Info: Lush, moody film score finally available on CD with material restored from the film. Bertolucci's controversial soft-core porn gets a haunting backdrop and mood from Barbieri's compositions and solos. More accessible than his avant-gardish jazz recordings of the time this soundtrack helped make him a star. The emotional core of his playing remains.

Gato Barbieri: UNDER FIRE
Flying Dutchman 1973. Produced by Bob Thiele.

Capsule Info: Says Gato Barbieri: "I sing sometimes, not because I like to sing but because the music needs singing. And when I scream with my horn, it's because the music needs screaming." Cool stuff. The groove in the last two cuts especially is wonderful.

Flying Dutchman 1973. Produced by Bob Thiele.

Capsule Info: A collection of cuts from THE THIRD WORLD, FENIX and EL PAMPERO.

Impulse! 1973. Produced by Ed Michel.

Capsule Info: Recorded with a host of Argentine and Brazilian musicians and percussionists, this is the first of a quartet of albums exploring rhythm and Latin-American forms. The emphasis here is on percussive rhythms rooted in South American Indian culture: Andean world music wishes it had this much life. See also 1997 CD below "LATINO AMERICA."

Impulse! 1973. Produced by Ed Michel.

Capsule Info: The second part of his Impulse! quartet, this one featuring more of a Brazilian feel than Andean.

Gato Barbieri: YESTERDAYS
Flying Dutchman 1974. Produced by Bob Thiele.

Capsule Info: Gato begins to edge away toward jazzpop here, but these cuts really cook anyway. One of my favorite Gato albums, and I love the electric guitar work.

Impulse! 1974. Produced by Ed Michel.

Capsule Info: Pulling back from the edge, Gato's third installment is full of Afro-Cuban style bigband jazz arrangements.

Gato Barbieri: EL GATO
Flying Dutchman 1975. Produced by Bob Thiele.

Capsule Info: A "best of" from Flying Dutchman to capitalize on his Impulse! success, the album also includes the previously unreleased extended (12:45) track "El Gato" featuring Oliver Nelson. This track cooks: wonderfully arranged, prominent percussion by Airto, terrific groove set by the guitar. (#Note that "El Gato", the one Gato track new here, has finally been reissued on CD as part of the 1999 compilation: GATO BARBIERI: THE BEST OF THE EARLY YEARS. See below.)

Impulse! 1975 AS-9264. Produced by Ed Michel.

Capsule Info: Live cut recorded at Montreux July 6, 1973 featured on compilation of live material from the Impulse! stable.

Impulse! 1975. Produced by Ed Michel.

Capsule Info: Recorded live in New York City, at the Bottom Line, Feb 20-23. Reissued on CD in great sounding 20 bit in Japan, early 1999. Recorded in a fairly transitional style for Gato: the music is neither as edgy as his early 70s work nor commercial as his late 1970s material (of course the live recording helps THAT. Best cut is the 15 minute plus "La China Leoncia" which fairly smokes. A track also appears on the domestic Gato installment of "PRICELESS JAZZ," see below.

Gato Barbieri: CALIENTE!
A&M 1976. Produced by Herb Alpert.

Capsule Info: So it doesn't make complete sense, but Impulse! and Flying Dutchman go belly up and Herb Alpert picks up the pieces and recreates Gato as a pop jazz guy. Well, it was probably a great career move.

Gato Barbieri: RUBY, RUBY
A&M 1977. Produced by Herb Alpert.

Capsule Info: Of course this is very produced and denser than his earlier work, but it's still Gato's trademark sound. There's real emotion here even if the strings are sweeping in the background and studio musicians are edging out the more creative of Gato's associates.

Gato Barbieri: TROPICO
A&M 1978. Produced by David Rubinson & Friends, Inc.

Capsule Info: This was the year that every jazz musician put a jungle scene on the cover of his or her album and played disco and what would later be called Quiet Storm. Lonnie Liston Smith did it. Deodato did it. Here Gato does it. If you hate that genre, you'll hate this; you can also like this just fine and still think Kenny G sux; it is, after all, no longer 1978.

Gato Barbieri: EUPHORIA
A&M 1979. Produced by David Rubinson & Friends, Inc.

Capsule Info: I'm still waiting for this to come out on CD. The tracks I've heard anthologized on CD are not special; commercial A&M era material. I will be fascinated to see if the CD reissue when it arrives bears the photo on the reverse of the LP which shows, well, just what kind of a man Gato is. In much greater, um, outline than most jazz musicians.

A&M 19?. Various producers.

Capsule Info: A compilation of his A&M Records era material.

Gato Barbieri: GATO
1982 Musica Latina. Produced by Teo Macero, Jay Chattaway and Gato Barbieri.

Capsule Info: Less slick than the A&M albums, pretty good for early '80s music, which was a bad period for just about everybody if you ask me. This album was also issued under the title BAHIA on the Fania label.

Frank Ferrucci: JEWEL EYES
1982 Wren Records. Produced by ?.

Capsule Info: I haven't seen this.

Dr. Jazz/Signature/Sony 1983/1989. Produced by Gato Barbieri and Teo Macero.

Capsule Info: A live date from 1981 with terrible liner notes, this sounds like it could have been recorded ten years earlier and, while not fabulous sound quality, is a great album. Not jazz pop at all!

Dr. Jazz 1984. Produced by Teo Macero.

Capsule Info: I've not heard this.

Gato Barbieri: APASIONADO
Dr. Jazz 1985. Produced by Gato Barbieri, Teo Macero and Sergio del Neri.

Capsule Info: Recorded in NYC in 1983, licensed in the US from Polygram-Dischi SPA (Italy); Pleasantly mellow album a la his A&M years but less slick and therefore a little more substantive.

RCA 1988 reissue. Produced by Bob Thiele.

Capsule Info: A reissue of mid-'70s Gato: all of 1974's YESTERDAYS plus bits from EL PAMPERO.

Hip Bop Essence 1995. Produced by Lenny White.

Capsule Info: If Cal Tjader had made a record with Gato in the mid-1970s it would sound like this. Nicely rhythmic and acoustic set in a very straightforward Afro-Cuban jazz mode with none of the slickness or electronics that mar, say, 1997's QUE PASA. Gato sounds good, but this is very much a collaborative album and so his unique personality doesn't always rise to the surface. Don't let the presence of Bob James scare you...this is a really good record. "Casablanca" is absolutely haunting and Gato's playing is grainy and wonderful as ever.

Gato Barbieri: QUE PASA
Columbia/Sony 1997. Produced by Philippe Saisse.

Capsule Info: Well there's no way to say it: this album sounds like it came out of a machine. The first time I heard it I didn't think I'd bother with it a second time. It was Gato so I did listen to it again, and now I don't hate all of it. But Phillippe Saisse's technical wizardry is no substitute for the chemistry of live musicians, and that hideous electronic percussion behind almost every song is relentlessly... boring. Some of this is pleasantly atmospheric background music and I actually like the cut "Granada". But Third World re-revisited it ain't.

GRP 1997. Compilation produced by John Snyder.

Capsule Info: A compilation drawn from Gato's four Impulse! albums.

Impulse! 1997. Produced by Ed Michel.

Capsule Info: Stellar CD reissue of two of Gato's Impulse! LPs, with unreleased tracks, tracks restored to original extended lengths, and wonderful digitally remixing. The sound here is more three-dimensional, and the two-hour plus length allows complete submersion into Gato's politicized third-world vision. Fascinating liner notes by original producer Ed Michel.

A&M 1998. Various producers.

Capsule Info: Updated and digitally remastered greatest hits collection from his four-album commercial A&M period material.

Remo Capra featuring Gato Barbieri: I'M JUST A MAN
Sony Music Special Products 1997. Produced by Teo Macero.

Capsule Info: Pleasant backing for set by European singer Remo Capra.

Gato Barbieri: CHE CORAZON
Columbia/Sony 1999. Produced by Chuck Loeb.

Capsule Info: Gato's latest album is a sentimental tribute to the members of his family. While it avoids the worst pitfalls of the QUE PASA, with a somewhat more acoustic feel, it's still a slickly produced affair, owing much more to Gato's A&M period than his previous work. It's pleasant, atmospherically melancholy, and for my hyper critical ears (sorry, Gato), the only really painful thing here is the simply horrid whiny '90s style r&b vocal on the updated remake of Gato's remake of Marvin Gaye's "I Want You." That said Gato blows a lot harder than Pharoah Sanders does in these same 30 years later, and that does, I guess, account for something.

RCA Victor/BMG Classics. Produced by Bob Thiele.

Capsule Info: A surprising treat for the often dismal reissue world is this BMG compilation of Gato's Flying Dutchman works (1971-1973), happily including the heretofore unavailable on CD track "El Gato" tacked onto a mid 1970s compilation of the same name, see above. The CD clocks in at 53 minutes, which ain't so generous, but the sound is great, with depth that will reveal nuances the European CD reissues don't. "El Gato" is a must, which makes this CD one also.

Other recordings: A track by Gato appears on the 1975 LP compilation IMPULSIVELY (ABC Impulse!). Also extant but not seen by me (thanks to Lois Roe for info): 1970 GATO BARBIERI PLAYS OUT TRACK MUSIC BY PIERO UMIUANI (ITALY ??); 1965 GATO BARBIERI AND DON CHERRY, (DURIUM RECORDINGS, ITALY); 1976 GATO BARBIERI AND DON CHERRY (INNER-CITY RECORDS); tracks by Gato appear on the compilations: 1996 LATE NIGHT SAX (Polygram); 1996? IMPULSE JAZZ-A 30 YEAR CELEBRATION (UNI/GRP); FIRE INTO JAZZ: THE BEST OF IMPULSE! VOL.THREE; 1967 LATIN JAZZ (import: ESP); "Gato apparently made a classical recording around 1976 or so, with Lalo Schifrin's cousin Luis Enriquez Bacalov. It was called DESBANDES and was Vista TPL 1149 (Italy). In the interview in which he mentioned it, he said his part was improvised, which I would love to hear, but have yet to find. It's apparently not in print, but I'm hoping to find at least an old vinyl recording." Details on any of these or other recordings featuring Gato would be greatly appreciated.


A Jazz Supreme