A slave to his own sense of fashion, Gato Barbieri doesn't check the weather forecast before he goes out. At Blues Alley Friday night, the famed Argentine saxophonist showed up sporting his attire for all seasons -- scarf, fedora and sunglasses. But if his look was familiar, the incandescent, reverb-laced tone of his tenor sax was even more so.
Once Barbieri settled into the opening set -- and it took a while -- his performance began to unfold like one of his solos, tracing a slow but steady dramatic arc. At first he appeared fatigued, playing simple melodies and riffs in an offhand manner. His impressive rhythm section, though, quickly took up the slack with sharply syncopated beats and colorfully woven textures drawn from a broad variety of South American, Afro-Cuban, salsa and funk sources. This festive melange seemed to rejuvenate Barbieri, as he began to play with considerably more energy and passion. There were even a few moments when his briefly unbridled tone recalled his years of harmonic experimentation in the '60s.
None of Barbieri's band mates proved more resourceful than percussionist Frank Colon. Surrounded by a small arsenal of instruments, he played everything from berimbau (on "Bolivia") to congas (on "Viva Emiliano Zapata") with abundant spirit and imagination. Yet the slippery six-string interludes created by electric bassist Mario Rodriguez and percussive attack demonstrated by pianist Hector Martignon consistently enlivened the performances as well. By evening's end, when shouts for an encore finally subsided, Barbieri responded with a surefire crowd pleaser, his rhapsodic interpretation of Carlos Santana's "Europa."
-- Mike Joyce