The Revisiting series features albums from the past that played a significant role in Latin Jazz history. The purpose of this series is to introduce new Latin Jazz listeners to important albums and look back at these albums in historical perspective. Each entry will jump to a different point in Latin Jazz history – this week we move to 1974.
Latin Jazz recordings serve as more than entertainment value, they capture artists in different phases of their careers. Over the course of time, musicians inevitably vary their musical priorities and each recording shows them going down a different path. Some albums reflect an artist’s desire to follow a traditional path while others delve into experimental territory. Some recordings reflect an artist’s desire to craft an authentic performance while others expose their commercial attempt at financial success. Change occurs naturally, and each recording catalogues new developments. As listeners, we often focus on our favorites eras of a musician’s career, and compare everything before and after to that point in time.
Gato Barbieri’s early career moved between his two early musical loves – modern jazz and Latin American traditional music. Growing up in Argentina, Barbieri first heard Charlie Parker at the age of 12 and became determined to play clarinet. He studied intently, and when his family later moved to Buenos Aires, he began to double on saxophone. While still a teenager, Barbieri joined Lalo Shafrin’s group and built a national reputation. He moved to Europe in the 1960′s and dove into the free jazz movement, performing extensively with trumpet player Don Cherry. While still experimenting with Cherry, Barbieri began recording albums under his own name that revisited his Latin American roots, such as El Pampero: Live in Montreaux, Switzerland on the Flying Dutchman label. His screaming tenor sax sound, free jazz leanings, and application of Latin rhythms earned the attention of the Impulse label, who quickly signed him to record a series of albums.
His third release for Impulse, the 1974 album Chapter Three: Viva Emiliano Zapata, brings the best of Barbieri’s emotional sound together with Chico O’Farrill’s big band arranging. The tipico sound at the top of “Milonga Triste” soon grows into a rich harmony underneath Barbieri’s expressive phrasing. O’Farrill’s arranging genius shines through “Lluvia Azul” as the big band moves from a bolero into a Cha Cha Cha and finally lands in an up-tempo mambo; Barbieri pushes through each change with style, providing creative variations on the original melody. Barbieri’s screaming tone drives the 6/8 rhythm on “El Sublime,” at times pushing the boundaries of the harmony with a Pharoah Sanders influenced intensity. At the same time, O’Farrill moves the band into contemporary territory with a Fender Rhodes sound, rock drumbeats, and guitar comping. The relentless rhythm section and the strong trumpets mold a classic mambo sound on “La Podrida,” framing Barbieri’s improvisations with blasts of sound. “Viva Emiliano Zapato” stands as an up-tempo descarga with Barbieri taking an extended improvisation that moves between powerful supporting horn lines. Barbieri’s passionate performance technique, coupled with O’Farrill’s well-conceived arrangements made a complimentary pair; a perfect foundation for a strong voice.
Fortunately Impulse caught the best of Barbieri on Chapter Three: Viva Emiliano Zapata, for he soon changed his approach drastically. During his time with Impulse, Barbieri became an overnight star through his work on the soundtrack to the 1972 film Last Tango in Paris. After he had fulfilled his contract, Barbieri signed onto Herb Alpert’s profitable A&M label that fostered a more commercial sound. Barbieri’s biting tone soon mellowed, allowing him to soothe bluesy melodies and funky rhythms. While he still utilized Latin rhythms, his approach increasingly incorporated funk and rock drum beats. After the death of his wife in the early 1990s, he stopped performing until 1997. Since then, Barbieri’s work has followed his commercial trend, leading up to the 2002 album Shadow of the Cat. Chapter Three: Viva Emiliano Zapata stands as a testament to Barbieri’s more adventurous days; it remains a classic piece of Barbieri’s career before he moved in other directions.