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Barbieri, Gato

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Mystical yet fiery, passionately romantic yet supremely cool - You hear those first few notes from that instantly recognizable tenor and know you’re in the unique musical world of Gato Barbieri.  His legend continues on his most recent and 50th album “The Shadow of the Cat”(Peak/Concord PKD-8509-2). Released in September 2002, “Shadow” won Billboard’s prestigious 2003 Latin Jazz Album of the Year and garnered a Latin Grammy nomination. Beginning professionally as a teenager playing alto sax in Buenos Aires clubs, Barbieri’s five decade career has covered virtually the entire jazz landscape, from free jazz (with trumpeter Don Cherry in the mid-60s) and avante garde to film scoring and his ultimate embrace of Latin music throughout the 70s and 80s. He began playing tenor with his own band in the late 50s and moved to Rome with his Italian born first wife Michelle in 1962, where he began collaborating with Cherry.  The two recorded two albums for Blue Note, Complete Communion and Symphony for Improvisers, which are considered classics of free group improvisations. Barbieri launched his career as a leader with the Latin flavored The Third World in 1969, and later parlayed his Last Tango success into a career as a film composer, scoring a dozen international films over the years in Europe , South America and the United States . From 1976 through 1979, Barbieri released four popular albums on A&M Records, the label owned by trumpet great Herb Alpert. The Shadow of the Cat is a reunion of sorts for the two, with Alpert playing trumpet and trumpet solos on three songs.  “The Shadow of the Cat” features other musical friends including Peter White, Sheila E, Russ Freeman and others. “Shadow” also includes “El Chico” dedicated to long time friend and collaborator CHICO O FARRELL. It also contains a re-recording of the theme from 1972s film “Last Tango In Paris” (celebrating the 30th anniversary of the controversial and ground-breaking Bertolucci directed classic) for which Gato won his first Grammy for the composing and recording of the score. Gato Barbieri called his 1999 release “Che Corazon” a musical biography, nostalgic, about friends and family, and he dedicates “The Shadow of the Cat” to his beloved mother, who passed away in 1991. In his liner notes, he writes, “If not for you and the spark you lit in me, I would not be who I am today. There would be no [The] Shadow of the Cat. Barbieri grew up poor in Rosario, Argentina, but felt rich in what he learned from her about life, love and music. She encouraged him to work with his hands and to play clarinet and alto sax, while his brother became a trumpet player.  She understood me and encouraged my musical dreams, he says.  She was an incredible woman.  Barbieri officially took up the clarinet at age 12 when he heard Charlie Parker’s “Now’s The Time”, and even as he continued private music lessons in Buenos Aires, he was playing his first professional gigs with Lalo Schifrin’s orchestra.  During that time, Juan Peron was in power, he recalls. “We weren’t allowed to play all jazz; we had to include some traditional music, too. So we played tango and other things like carnavalito.”   In Buenos Aires, Barbieri also had the opportunity to perform with visiting musicians like Cuban mambo king Perez Prado, Coleman Hawkins, Herbie Mann, Dizzy Gillespie, and Jo Gilberto.  Barbieri credits his learning of musical discipline to his years working with Don Cherry while living in Europe . While collaborating with Cherry in the mid-60s, the saxophonist also recorded with American expatriate Steve Lacy and South African pianist Abdullah Ibrahim, then known as Dollar Brand. Other associations during Barbieri’s free jazz days included time with Charlie Haden, Carla Bley and the Jazz Composer’s Orchestra, as well as dates with Stanley Clarke, Airto Moreira, Chico O’Farrell, and Lonnie Liston Smith. He had recorded a handful of albums on the Flying Dutchman label in the early 70s and then signed with Impulse where he recorded his classic Chapter Series Latin America , Hasta Siempre, Viva Emiliano Zapata and Alive in New York . While at Impulse, Last Tango hit, and by the mid-70s, his coarse, wailing tone began to mellow with ballads like “What A Difference A Day Makes” (known to Barbieri as the vintage bolero “Cuando Vuelva a tu Lado”) and Carlos Santana’s “Europa”. Many smooth jazz radio stations later adopted “Europa” as their theme song, indicative of the vibe of the new format, which launched in the late 80s. Most of Barbieri’s A&M recordings of the late 70s including the brisk selling 1976 opus Caliente! featured this softer jazz approach, but early 80s dates like the live Gato Para Los Amigos had a more intense, rock influenced South American sound.  After many years of limited musical activity due to the passing of his first wife Michelle (also his closest musical confidant and manager) and his own triple bypass surgery six weeks later, Barbieri returned stronger than ever with the 1997 Columbia offering “Que Pasa”, the fourth highest selling Contemporary Jazz album of the year. Since “The Shadow of the Cat”, Gato has continued to play festivals, concerts and clubs around the world. One reviewer, who first saw Gato live in 1972, and then reviewed Gato live again in 2004, said of his 2004 performance (May 15, 2004, Washington, PA), “Gato’s show that night was nothing less than consummate artistry by a true master of the jazz idiom. If this is what his performances are like these days, then everyone should see him while he still has the energy to play like this. He is one of the rarest musicians in any style because he has created a sound unique to himself that is timeless.

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