Tag Archives: Von Barlow

Album review: “Flight of the Vultures” (Parsons/Buckner/Barlow)

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vultures

“Flight of the Vultures” is a snapshot of a band in ecstasis, a showcase for three jazz masters at the height of their creative powers. Trumpeter Longineu Parsons, who just recently earned his doctorate from the University of Florida, is joined by longtime collaborator Von Barlow and bassist Lawrence Buckner on a searing set of nine tunes, of which all but one are original compositions. Barlow and Buckner are well-known to local audiences from their longtime residency at the Casbah in Avondale on Sunday nights; with tenor saxophonist Eric Riehm, they comprised one of the best jazz groups working anywhere in the world.

The album starts out hot with Parsons’ own “Hannibal’s March part II”, then gets downright searing on the classic Coltrane tune “Mr. P.C.”, named for the late great bassist Paul Chambers (who played alongside Trane in the Miles Davis quintet of the 1950s). Barlow’s ride cymbal carries through into “Flute Song”, which leads into “Forward”. Buckner’s adept handling of the upright bass is featured prominently here, laying down a fantastically funky backdrop for Barlow’s tom-toms and the inimitable flute-work of the leader—shrill trills that chill and thrill as thoroughly as when you see him live, as I did at Jazzland Café just a few days ago.

From there, the band moves into their “Orgasma Suite”. Wilhelm Reich would be proud. 20 minutes of slow rising, brooding backbeats, building to a boil behind and the piercing wail of arguably the most underrated trumpeter of his generation. The recording is perfect, evocatively atmospheric; you can practically hear the shadows in the room. The last two tracks “Deeply” and “Searching”, sound like their titles, and make a fine aperitif after the stiff fluidity of the rest of the set. Overall, of my favorite albums by three of my favorite people. Good stuff…

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Jazz Fest preview: Von Barlow’s 2-night stand at European Street

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With the Jacksonville Jazz Festival entering its 30th year this May (27-31), a spotlight falls on one of the better jazz scenes in the south. Contrary to perception of the region as a cultural backwater, Northeast Florida boasts, among other things: nationally-ranked jazz education programs at UNF, FSCJ and DASOTA; a festival that’s drawn some of the all-time greats of jazz music; and dozens upon dozens of working musicians, active here and all over the country. It shouldn’t take a blindfold test to illustrate the skills on display, on a weekly basis, but it does. The jazz musicians don’t record as often, nor gig as regularly, as their peers in hip-hop or indie rock, and that has coupled with the general reluctance of local media (television, most egregiously) to feature regional artists to push everything back. Even the splendid Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra must fight for coverage. The significant economic boost generated by the festival each year (over $20 million in 2009) speaks to the efficacy of maintaining a higher profile for the music.

All the same, the music itself is excellent. Von Barlow is a fixture in all of this, swinging in his sixties with sidemen half his age and less; he’s one among a number of people (Patrick Evan is another example) who perform a pedagogical function on the bandstand. He picks good musicians, who get better through their involvement with him. That’s right in line with the jazz tradition as it relates to drummers. Art Blakey, Arthur Taylor, Max Roach, Mel Lewis and Buddy Rich stand out among those who made a point of putting over young talent in their bands.

Barlow’s trio with Eric Riehm and Lawrence Buckner provides the best regular jazz night anywhere within hundreds of miles when they work the Casbah in Avondale every Sunday. You’d seriously have to get on I-95 and drive north for hours, passing cities–Savannah, Atlanta, Charleston, Myrtle Beach, Richmond, Baltimore–with great jazz scenes but no single group as good. Only in New York (or maybe Baltimore, and certainly New Orleans) would you find any jazz band that plays that hard, that long and with that level of finesse on a regular basis. In my opinion, anyway. Riehm is a beast on tenor, and Barlow’s broken so many sticks that trees cower in his presence.

A member of the jazz festival’s Hall of Fame, Barlow is playing two sets at the festival on Friday, the 28th, back-to-back at the Snyder Memorial Church. Von Barlow’s Jazz Journey–a larger, funkier group–plays at 6pm, followed at 8 by a tribute to longtime friend (and fellow Hall-of-Famer) Teddy Washington. The trio may also be playing the Hemming Plaza market that afternoon (10am-2pm), as usual, but there may actually be limits to Barlow’s herculean stamina. 

There will be two chances to see/hear Barlow prior to the festival, as they work a two-night stand at European Street earlier that week. E Street’s a local fixture, famed for its huge beer list, supplemented with awesome beer-cheese soup an array of meat-based fare. The locations at San Marco and Beach Boulevard feature live music; Barlow works the former often, with Buckner or Ricky Ravelo on bass and organist Scott Giddins. His Jazz Journey plays the Beach Blvd. location on Wednesday the 25th, then plays San Marco on the 26th. Bonus: Barlow’s raffling tickets to the Great American Jazz Piano Competition (which is Thursday, the 27th, at the Florida Theatre) each night.