Those still saddened by the 2013 passing of mainstream post-bop piano titans Mulgrew Miller and Cedar Walton will find consolation, and a tonic, in Daybreak; Barth is a kindred spirit and consummate pro, intent on deepening the jazz tradition more than expanding it. As a piano stylist, Barth can both deftly shuffle and gracefully graft bop and swing, and keeps the touchstone of the blues nearby. There is erudition in his solos, which often unfurl as complete sentences, right down to their punctuation. He is equally well-rounded as a composer, using durable melodies and complex harmonies for Afro-Caribbean (“Vamonous”), Brazilian (“Brasilia”) and down-home (“Tuesday Blues”) settings.
Barth leads a quintet of mostly longtime sidemen on half the 10 songs, and plays in duet, trio and quartet format with them on the rest. On the pair of trio numbers backed by drummer Montez Coleman and bassist Vincente Archer (a bopped-up cover of Jobim’s “Triste” and the sparkling original “Then Three”) he is particularly expressive and self-assured, goosed by their angular, multi-textured support. The two frontline players include trumpeter Terell Stafford (he and Barth are often integral to each other’s ensembles) who sears the sauce on “Tuesday Blues” without once stooping to a clichéd growl and duets with the pianist on Keith Jarrett’s “So Tender” as the closer. Then there is vibraphonist Steve Nelson, perhaps best known for his long stint with Dave Holland, but here more of a front line soloist who puts some glide in the title waltz, adds to the glory of the scintillating “Vamonos” and duets, frequently in unison, with Barth on the pianist’s composition “Somehow It’s True.”
Precious little “new ground” is broken here, but the musical turf is tilled with love and expertise. The form is familiar, but the depth of the investment still nourishes and dazzles.