June 2008

Joe and Pat LaBarbera
at the TD Canada Trust Toronto Jazz Festival
June 19, 2008 The Rex Toronto
Lessons with the LaBarberas
by Tova G. Kardonne
“Who can tell me what tune that was based on?” A silence. “Come on, aren’t there any Jazz students in the audience?” A rumble. That was provocative. The audience was littered with some of the city’s hottest talent in jazz, come to the Rex on this Thursday night to enjoy hearing it done right. “You can even tell by the name!” The tune was called “If Not For You,” written by Joe LaBarbera, and it was, of course, based on the chord changes of “But Not For Me”. But one just doesn’t yell answers at Pat and Joe LaBarbera; one sits smug or puzzles sheepishly behind one’s beer and concentrates on keeping one’s ears wide open.

Or at least, I do. With Pat on saxes and Joe on drums, the quartet was rounded out by Neil Swainson on bass and Brian Dickinson on piano. More than enough to keep the conversation to a minimum in the room. They played originals and standards, uptempo bop and blues and jazz waltz and something whose feel I kept changing my mind about. Straight 8ths and bluesy melodic elements: latin-esque shuffle? or funk fusion? Oh, definitions forsooth, the whole night grooved.

Pat LaBarbera

Joe LaBarbera
The highlight was one of Pat’s originals, “Little Lady,” which he performed in the oriental seduction of the soprano sax’s voice. Navigating the temperamental upper register with the leaping abandon of a turbulent wind, the instrument’s shifting timbre added definition to the arc of his solo’s story. It seemed to be a personal story, full of grief and revelations, answering and complementing the earlier solo by Brian Dickinson in its intensity. That too was a feat of motivic construction and emotional depth. I was surprised, as I often find Dickinson’s solos more erudite and intellectual than stirring. But this time, it was a sobbing, raging piano monologue that rocked the stage and commanded rapt attention. Swainson constructed his lines to give away little of the difficulty involved in executing them; molto cantabile. The interaction and responsiveness between the members of the rhythm section was a unified pleasure.

Between sets, the packed room erupted into the more normal hubbub of a large group of people in an enclosed space. Like the vibe of recess. The furrowed brows relaxed, the motionless focus subsided, and we were out of the classroom, back in the pub. Thanks, Pat and Joe LaBarbera. There was a lot to take in, and I don’t think I caught it all, but I caught this much: that, there, was some fine jazz.

We welcome your comments and feedback
Tova G. Kardonne
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