Gato Barbieri: 'Caliente!'


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New York hit 90 degrees yesterday with 50% humidity. Though it's summer, the city hasn't really experienced that much heat this summer. At any rate, down came the shades, on went the air conditioning and I decided to spend my writing day listening to tenor saxophonist Gato Barbieri. The album that I kept coming back to was Caliente! (1976), though I love Que Passa (1997) and Barbrieri's magnum opus, Last Tango in Paris (1972).

Caliente! was recorded for A&M Records at the height of the jazz-fusion and disco eras and was produced by Herb Alpert. Barbieri plays with sizzling heat—channeling later Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane and Archie Shepp but relying largely on tango-infused Argentinian folk expressiveness. Miraculously, Caliente! is a perfect album—meaning every track is engaging, beautifully arranged and splendidly executed.

What I love most about the album is how Herb [above] smartly envisioned soothing strings and funk against Barbieri's rattlesnake sound. Most of the lyrical songs are by Barbieri, except for Europa (Carlos Santana), I Want You (Leon Ware) and Behind the Rain (Herb Alpert). In some ways, the album's success became a model for Herb's own instrumental Rise (Andy Armer, Randy Badazz Alpert), which became a massive hit in 1979. 

The studio orchestra on Caliente! was as good as it gets in the 1970s: Marvin Stamm, Bernie Glow, Randy Brecker and Marky Markowitz (tp); Wayne Andre, David Taylor and Paul Faulise (tb); Gato Barbieri (ts); Eddie Martinez (keyboards); Don Grolnick (keyboards,synt); Eric Gale, David Spinozza and Joe Beck (g)l Gary King (b); Lenny White (d); Ralph MacDonald, Mtume (perc); Alfred Brown, David Nadien, Charles McCracken, Theodore Israel, Matthew Raimondi, Harry Cykman, Harry Glickman, Alan Shulman, Max Ellen, Harold Kohon, Max Pollikoff, Harry Lookofsky and Paul Gershman (strings); and Jay Chattaway (arr, cond). [Above, trumpeter Randy Brecker]

I'm not sure what Barbieri is up to these days. His site hasn't been updated in some time. I suspect he's still touring someplace in the world and driving audiences wild.

JazzWax tracks: You'll find Gato Barbieri's Caliente! here.

JazzWax clip: Here's Fireflies from Caliente!...

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


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