When Gary Bartz is in the mood to play and has the right rhythm section and material, almost no one can touch him. On the live There Goes the Neighborhood, he seems intent on burning down the house right from the opening bar of “Racism (Blues in Double B-flat Minor.)
Bartz's alto playing is a charged-up synthesis of Jackie McLean's urban grittiness, John Coltrane's modal sensibilities, and Sonny Rollins'declamatory strength. He plays with a slightly nasal, tart tone that adds an effective acidity to even his ballad performances. This quality, added to his rhythmic assertiveness, invests a tune like Tadd Dameron's “On a Misty Night” with a steeliness that keeps it from becoming treacly.
Not that being overly sweet is a danger when you have a super-tough rhythm section like pianist Kenny Barron, bass player Ray Drummond, and drummer Ben Riley. These are the best kind of veteran players to have on a date — thoroughly immersed in post-bop tradition but never complacent, always listening and responding to each other.
There Goes the Neighborhood reminds you how much fun hearing great jazz can be. It also illustrates the kind of emotional range it has, played well. Bartz's playing is sometimes fierce (Coltrane's “Impressions”), sometimes romantic (“I've Never Been in Love Before”) and always compelling. There Goes the Neighborhood is a first-rate program of focused mainstream jazz.