Pianist Bruce Barth's considerable chops and abilities as a composer/arranger have long drawn the attention of fellow jazz musicians, along with in-the-know critics and fans. The seasoned bandleader excels in this 2012 session, for the most part leading a quartet with vibraphonist Steve Nelson (who is among the top players of his generation), plus bassist Ben Street and drummer Dana Hall. Right out of the pocket, Barth signals a change in direction, with his turbulent arrangement of George Gershwin's "My Man's Gone Now," incorporating both Latin and Brazilian elements into his powerful performance. John Coltrane's "Big Nick" is a bit of an obscurity, penned in honor of saxophonist Big Nick Nicholas and premiered on his small-group meeting with Duke Ellington. This jaunty rendition proves even more amusing than the composer's recording, giving plenty of space for Nelson to deliver his bluesy solo. Barth and Nelson tackle the standard "The Song Is You" as a duet, though they briskly work around its chord changes, only revealing its melody at the conclusion. Barth's originals prove to be just as potent. "Three Things of Beauty" is a multifaceted work, initially a shimmering ballad, then transforming into a hip groove with an exotic air before returning to a subdued, mysterious conclusion. "Wise Charlie's Blues" has a late-night air, blending the perfect mix of humor and delicious bop. "Be Blued" is a complex, infectious blues that fuels some of the best improvising of the record date. This is another welcome addition to Bruce Barth's valuable discography.
AllMusic Review by Ken Dryden