Gary Bartz NTU Troop ‘Live In Bremen 1975’ 2CD (Moosicus) 4/5

Recorded in 1975, ‘Live In Bremen’ includes several compositions from seminal albums recorded by Gary Bartz for the Milestone and Prestige record labels in the early ’70s including the two ‘Harlem Bush Music’ recordings ‘Taifa’ and ‘Uhuru’ together with ‘I’ve Known Rivers’.

This superb archive reissue features two hours of music with twelve tracks, of which some are incorporated into a medley. The recording captures a particular sound and spirit, synonymous with Gary Bartz and the NTU Troop. There’s an unrelenting inventiveness and freedom throughout the performance, anchored by a soulful underpinning from the quartet and each track feels, if you didn’t know the tracks already, that they are being composed in the moment. The spontaneity keeps the light flickering and the anticipation buoyant. The group seems perfect for the leader’s sustained improvised passages, adding a weighted thread that allows Gary Bartz to build on the ideas within a supportive framework.

As well as Gary Bartz on Alto and Soprano Saxophone, the album features long-standing partner Howard King on drums, Curtis Robertson on Electric Bass and Charles Mims on Piano and Synthesizer. Gary Bartz also provides vocals alongside Curtis Robertson on backing vocals.

Before embarking on a solo career Gary Bartz worked alongside some of the greats of jazz including Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers, Max Roach, Miles Davis and McCoy Tyner. Drummer Howard King had featured alongside the leader on his early 1970s albums as well as working on albums by Carlos Garnett and Larry Young before this live recording. In the same year as this Bremen Concert, pianist Charles Mims Jr began working with Patrice Rushen on a number of her albums as well as collaborations including Eddie Henderson and Lenny Williams. Bassist Curtis Robertson continued to work with Gary Bartz after the concert and also enjoyed stints with artists including Johnny Hammond, Freddie Hubbard and Syreeta.

Compositions include ‘Peace and Love’, ‘I’ve Known Rivers’, ‘Celestial Blues’, ‘Nation Time’, ‘Uhuru Sasa’ and ‘Ju Ju Man’, each steeped in Gary Bartz’s unique sound and vision. The album is rounded off with a warm tribute to The Isley Brothers song ‘For The Love Of You’; an original sampled by Jaylib, Peanut Butter Wolf, Common and many more artists.

24 minutes seems more like 5 minutes on the classic Langston Hughes inspired ‘I’ve Known Rivers’. The piece opens up into a space where sound and silence make way for each other with composure and depth from the quartet’s connection to the piece. The performance on both ‘Peace and Love’ and ‘Ju Ju Man’ alone make this CD an essential purchase.

Mark Jones