Gary Bartz “Juju Man” | Catalyst Records
Gary Bartz has magnified an illustrious career by working with some of the best and creating his own path along the way. Max Roach to Charles Mingus to Miles Davis, Gary Bartz was a strong leader in his own right and never compromised his sound for anyone. Recording with landmark labels such as Milestone and Prestige, he carried a spiritual and invigorating style that started in the late 60′s and hasn’t stopped since.
In the age of reissues, labels are always digging up forgotten gems and hard to find sought after collectibles. The latter couldn’t be more true with the LP reissue of the 1976 LP Bartz did for Catalyst Records called Juju Man. Many of Bartz albums in the 70′s became very existential and at the same time interbal, traveling the cosmic age and natural ancestry of his bloodline. Juju Man truly came out of nowhere in the context of his recorded output. With its strong composition form and even vocal deep ballad work and approach the classic forms of jazz, it was an album that served as a breathing point for anyone who has absorbed his landmark albums. This is a reissue for the ages, shedding much needed light on a period of jazz that was going as far forward as it was looking to still connect with the past.
Five songs and 44 minutes in length, the Juju Man LP flows with a timeless beauty, showing a timeline of musical excellence that stretches a span of 50 years. Pianist Charles Mims lays down his parts with emotion and technique at the center of of it all, never dominating the mix but always presenting lyrical line after line. Gary Bartz is an accomplished alto and soprano saxophonist along with as much proficient skills and flavor on the clarinet. His solo’s move with such ease and grace with the masterful display of notes in flight that I loose all sense of time or even a sense of where I’m at. The inclusion of electric and upright from Curtis Robertson is just as stunning as the piano, allowing drummer Howard King to add texture over the music and map out the framework for every tradition of jazz they embody.
The spiritual song “Ju Ju Man” starts off the album with Bartz and company giving acknowledgment to John Coltrane’s concept of A Love Supreme. With lyrics from this famous Coltrane song instilled over a rapid network of harmony, the song becomes the opening gates to walk down memory lane. For thos eof us who are connecting to it now, it becomes an ever greater gift and time capsule of what we missed out on. The composition is twisted and modified into their own form, showing how far the highly vibration of this song can be transformed into different states. The groups version of “My Funny Valentine” is a strong ballad piece with incredible solo work through out and the sultry inclusion of a vocalist that gives the album a feeling of nostalgia unlike anything else on the album. Cosmic blues are conjured with an African heritage with the piece “Pisces Daddy Blue”. Deep electric bass and really expressive flared out drumming allows for Bartz to present the blues in a completely new and invigorating way. I can’t help but think of the way Sun Ra approached the blues when I hear this piece. Each song hints towards a different world in a really natural way, leaving the album shifted in every direction but centered around the concept of jazz. It is these type of bold shifts that defined the masters from the followers in an age of one sided voyages of sound. Bartz knew it all and displayed it and Juju Man displays this cultural vitality from beginning to end.
Gary Bartz knew the body of jazz well and every song has the modal structure of a jazz tradition. “Straight Street” is a marvelous look into the post bop world and what had become straight ahead jazz during the 70′s. Poignant long form solo’s soar over a swinging and ferocious rhythm section. The upright walks all over the place giving the drummer enough room to attack away at the multitude of entry points inside of the rhythmic structure. Bartz solos in a huge and euphoric mode, speaking a musical language many musicians dream they could achieve. To get this much soul out of rapid solo work is mind blowing and it opens the albums energy up another notch. The post bop world is rekindled with the last song “Chelsea Bridge”. This time though, Bartz takes a much more slower approach and builds around a beauty unseen in records of this period. Notes feel like they are raining down, giving way to a classic pre-50′s jazz sound that brings the album full circle from the spiritual and modern vibe that the guys put into this one.
Spiritual ballad work is possibly one of the most delicate balances to achieve and Juju Man from Gary Bartz is one of the most accomplished records in this fusion of worlds. Exact reproduction LP’s are always something I love to add to my collection, contributing to the authenticity of the visual representation of what people felt when it first released. This was one of those LP’s that I heard a long time ago and have wanted to find it ever since.