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Gato Barbieri (1932-2016)

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Gato Barbieri, a fiery tenor saxophonist born in Argentina whose music for film and albums could whip up images ranging from steamy seduction to hysterical passion, died on April 2. He was 83.

Influenced by the spiritual free-jazz of John Coltrane and Coltrane's disciples in the 1960s and Sonny Rollins in the 1970s, Barbieri nearly always thought in cinematic terms. He routinely created works of open-ended abandon and desire that churned and heaved, conjuring up images of the wild.

Despite reaching the heights of fame with his signature Last Tango in Paris, a masterpiece of tango-influenced jazz arranged and conducted by Oliver Nelson, Barbieri was never able to leverage his initial success in the States. Part of the reason for this may have been his one-track aesthetic. While the sound of his saxophone was distinct, his flinty attack and sizzling vibrato could seem repetitive and grating over long periods. The other part were his priorities, which didn't include traditional notions of American success—relentless film work, Christmas albums and a home in Bel Air. For Barbieri, family was everything, a joy that was stolen away when his wife (who was also his manager) endured a long-term illness that began in the ealry 1980s and ended with her death in 1995. A long-time New York resident, Barbieri withdrew from his relentless performing schedule, resurfacing in 2002.

In retrospect, Barbieri's music reminds me most of the jazz fusion era of the 1970s, when the late-night sound of his horn and overheated execution made the most sense. Here are my five favorite Gato Barbieri clips:

Here's Falsa Bahiana from Fenix (1971)...

 

Here's Last Tango in Paris (1972)...

 

Here's La Podrida from Chapter Three: Viva Emiliano Zapata (1974)...

 

Here's Caliente! (1976), the complete album...

 

And here's Dancing with Dolphins from Que Passa (1997)...

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This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved.

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