Gato Barbieri – In Search Of The Mystery [ESP Disk, 1967]

Gato Barbieri - In Search Of The MysteryGato Barbieri, born Leandro Barbieri, is an Argentine jazz tenor saxophonist, who started off playing clarinet and alto saxophone, after hearing Charlie Parker’s ‘Now’s the Time’. He began to absorb sounds from the blossoming free-jazz Avant-Garde by the likes of Coltrane, Albert Ayler, and Pharaoh Sanders, and began to adapt their screeching primal scream through his tenor. He came to prominence playing with notable trumpeter Don Cherry, on the acclaimed Complete Communion and Symphony for Improvisors, before spawning off to become his own leader.

In Search of the Mystery was his first date as a bandleader, recorded on Mar. 15, 1967 for ESP disk in New York City. It featured the distinctive line-up of himself on Tenor Sax, Calo Scott on cello, Norris ‘Sirone’ Jones on bass, and Bobby Kapp on drums. The 4 tracks, ‘In Search of the Mystery/Michelle’ (A Side) and ‘Obsession No. 2/Cinemateque (B side), were all recorded in one day, and completely capture the blitzkrieg spirit of free jazz.

If this record is searching for a mystery, it is of the Elysian variety. It starts off with the the ominous strains of cello and skittering percussion, while the Black Cat establishes the mood, soft and smooth and sultry as a spanish night, but quickly lights off for more soul-searing territory. Gato was quoted once as saying, “When I play the saxophone, I play life, I play love, I play anger, I play confusion. I play when people scream.” Scream he does, as well as screech and wail, in a cleansing crucible of pure anguished expression. The tones and expression he gets from his instrument are impressive, and rather unique as well, and his backing band is sympathetic and tight. The cello adds a suitably mysterious air to the proceeding, at times squeaking and striking the strings, at times melodic and mournful and romantic. The whole time, the free floating organism is held down from some of the wildest, abstract plucking i’ve heard from a stand-up courtesy of Sirone, and the non-stop cavalcade of free-flowing beats of Kapp, who never resorts to a simple back-beat. All the musicians are ranging-out, in the height of their powers and working some powerful magick.

Side 2 is a somewhat smoother affair, but is cut from pretty much the same cloth as the first, 20 minutes of catharsis, making the whole a complete splatter-canvas, a singular expression of a singular exploration: four musicians sculpting the Aether on a day in NYC, blowing their brains out and marvelling at the results. This music has never been commercially viable, but if you come to it, on its terms, like one of those early day Pilgrims consulting the Oracle, there are many marvels and wonders to behold, much healing to be had, even if not always pleasant or groovy.

After this period, Gato went on to explore Latin and Smooth Jazz, gaining commercial success with the Last Tango to Paris soundtrack, and Carlos Santanas’ Europa, producing more filler for the vapid 70s and 80s, but this album stands as a remarkable document of jazz at its freest, four burgeoning musicians cutting their teeth and willing to try anything.

J. Simpson

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