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Disc review: Heads of State, Search for Peace


Heads of State

Search for Peace

[Smoke Sessions]

3 1/2 stars (out of 4)

In the distinguished roster of jazz clubs in Buffalo history, the most unjustly unsung, by far, was Bemo Crockett’s Revilot Club on East Ferry Street near Jefferson. It operated magnificently in an era when jazz was not yet flourishing in Buffalo as it would soon when W. D. Hassett’s Downtown Room in the Statler and Ed Lawson’s Tralfamadore took hold and changed Buffalo live jazz listenership in a big way.

The Revilot – once known as the Bon Ton – was a wonderful club which booked the cream of early 1970s jazz musicians. Some of its best moments were predictable – groups led by Herbie Hancock, Elvin Jones, Bill Evans and McCoy Tyner, for instance. But some were as unpredictable as can be. Who would have expected drummer Roy Haynes to assemble one of the most powerful quartets heard live at the time? Almost as unpredictable was a group led by alto saxophonist Gary Bartz who was seldom considered a jazz star even though some amazing records called “Harlem Bush Music” were made by a group called Gary Bartz’s NTU Troop (named after a noun suffix in Bantu language).

In keeping with his life of total unpredictability in jazz, here in the 21st century, featuring alto saxophonist Bartz, is a powerhouse quartet of musicians who call themselves Heads of State and are veteran jazz musicians who all had experience playing in bands that played Bemo Crockett’s Revilot Club.

Bartz is the lead solo voice with pianist Larry Willis, bassist Buster Williams and drummer Al Foster. You don’t find a more well-traveled quartet of jazz musicians than this. But, in its straightforward mainstream way, it is a wonderful way to reintroduce Bartz, an unusual alto saxophonist who must now be understood to be almost singular. The alto is an instrument usually thought to be utterly beholden in jazz to Charlie Parker ever since he and Dizzy Gillespie overturned jazz with bebop in the 1940s. Bartz, though, in 2015, is a lyrical player--a singer on his instrument but one with a lusty tone rather than the exquisite sound of, say, Johnny Hodges (whom Duke Ellington used to refer to as his band’s “Lily Pons.”)

Bartz is very much his own player when you hear him in the 21st century. When this band played the Smoke Club at first, they were booked as the Larry Willis All-Stars but one listen to this disc and it’s obvious why Bartz was one of the most stellar of all performers at the Revilot Club in the early ’70s. Timeless music, beautifully played.

– Jeff Simon

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