The programme of this one might have been devised to circumvent the prejudices of potential listeners, since on the last two titles, which certainly do not lack general musical interest, the leader’s on his own. They have to be called percussion solos, since he does use a great range of hardware, or perhaps tabla is not entirely hardware? But I’m sure he wanted you to know about what comes before; after what I suppose is a tuning up, a short version of “Clouds” preceding the title track, both beginning oblique—the opener only really gets to begin—but the second proceeding into rather more interest. With a little electronic whizz from Herbie Hancock’s spare hand, this comes from his acoustic piano and a bassist with real drive called Jorge Roeder, not to omit mention of Richie Barshay himself.
He takes to tabla for “Peacock”, which might have dispensed with the burst of multi-tracked voice(s) that fails to add significance some way through the track, which also includes Daniel Blake’s (on this occasion tenor) saxophone. Out of which comes the sitar of Josh Feinberg in “Return Voyage”, reminiscent a little of the remarkable John Mayer/ Joe Harriott Indo-Jazz Fusions recordings made in London long ago and not to be forgotten.
Tabla rings out again on a performance of Monk’s “Trinkle Tinkle” recast, like a lot of what Barshay does, on a frame of Indian music—or an Indian frame itself somewhat recast by him. He likes to make better music by transfusing older ideas into it, and the “Trinkle Tinkle” is notable, with Blake on soprano at some stages staying on a chord rather than following the progression in tempo through the chorus structure. Eventually he telescopes the sequence into a lively conclusion.
After this there are two simultaneous and mutually sensitive brief bursts from Barshay and his fellow-percussionist Reinaldo de Jesús, who guests on a later and longer presentation under the same name. Barshay goes back to his tabla for a somewhat way-out but well-handled “Clouds”, at full length rather than the brief oblique snatch which was the opener. Hancock comes in for the third, and happily only as far as the present record is concerned, last time.
Quite why the next track is entitled “The Last Gasp”, I cannot say. I can say why this one composition by Blake is included: it’s just very good, with an interesting opening on which he reaches and screeches on tenor before Roeder takes over, to my real delight, delivering a long central section as a bass solo, working with Barshay (who really does arrestingly interesting things with his collection of implements) before Blake’s soprano enters and the title of his composition becomes less and less explicable: this is a very frisky and energetic piece of work to be called “The Last Gasp”.
At this point during successive listens to this set, my enthusiasm for the bassist reached its peak, the long solo intro to “No U Don’t” and then the passage accompanied by Barshay, apparently on hand-drums, and the duet and alternating of sections or choruses between solo percussionist and solo bass. Very musical, Barshay, giving us so much Roeder.
The bassist even gets to open “Sim Shalom” (prayer for peace) with added accordion, and Aoife O’Donovan (a name as Jewish as Josh Feinberg is Indian) singing the traditional Jewish song with some very superior klezmer or just beautiful clarinet work from Michael Winograd, the final Klezmer guest. Seems an odd inclusion, but Barshay is Jewish, and the performance does get a lift from his… tabla.
“Rutucupla” was the name given the quick burst of percussion duet earlier, and now we get the full thing, the two men opening so excitingly they couldn’t possibly ease off without sagging. They do not sag, the excitement changes flavour, never gets monotonous. Ay!
My enthusiasm for the last few tracks, beginning with “The Last Gasp”, is fairly considerable, but not quite matched by feelings for the earlier items, “Trinkle Tinkle” apart. “Exhale” is Barshay solo, distinguishing his cymbals with an exercise in musical impressionism before evoking long tunnels of sound and at one significant moment just touching a gong softly. The applause which soon follows opens the final track. The track was recorded live at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, and there might be something Chinese, or just Turandot about the heavy gong or crash noise which begins another demonstration that melody instruments aren’t necessary all of the time. Tuned elements, tabla, an oriental percussion orchestra…
This man is a serious percussionist and composer for percussion. Something beneficial has happened to my heartbeat.