Joe La Barbera made his professional debut in 1966 with the Sam Noto-Joe Romano Quintet, though he may be best known to jazz fans for his two-year stint between 1978 and 1980 as the drummer for the last edition of the Bill Evans Trio. This 1999 concert, recorded at Rocco in Southern California, is evidently just his second release as a leader. Mixing elements of hard bop, bop, and post-bop with a quintet that includes trumpeter Clay Jenkins, soprano and tenor saxophonist Bob Sheppard, pianist Bill Cunliffe, and bassist Tom Warrington, La Barbera explores a number of pieces by jazz greats. Mal Waldron's timeless ballad "Soul Eyes" features solid solos by Jenkins and Cunliffe, while the leader is spotlighted in Freddie Hubbard's "On the Q.T." (which also includes Sheppard's burning tenor sax) and Thelonious Monk's "Evidence," which is his famous reworking of "Just You, Just Me." The leader's two originals -- a tribute to his former employer with "Kind of Bill (For Bill Evans)," and "Message From Art (For Art Blakey)" -- both stand up very well against the better known jazz compositions on this recommended CD.
AllMusic Review by Ken Dryden