Tenor saxist Gato Barbieri--jazz's answer to the Pride of the Pampas--returns to the North American prairie, offering Chicagoans a relatively rare opportunity. Barbieri hasn't recorded much of late, making it easy to lose touch with his sometimes moving, sometimes forgettable music. But in his heyday (the mid-70s), Barbieri attracted plenty of attention. He did so in part because of his ability to weld elements of free jazz and fusion to the rhythms of his native Argentina. But interest centered primarily on his ardent, guttural saxophone screams--heard most prominently in his star-making score for the film Last Tango in Paris--musical cries encompassing universal passions but also embracing the more specific romance of Latin American revolution (in such titles as "Viva Emiliano Zapata") and the noble grandeur of the Argentine cowboy riding the pampas. Stereotypes all, but Barbieri, decked out in his broad-brimmed hats and satiny shirts, played them to the hilt, essentially obscuring the more adventurous music he had recorded earlier with Don Cherry and Carla Bley. Eventually Barbieri lost touch with the artistic discipline needed to anchor and animate his broad sound and its neon rasp: he became a caricature, as his music stopped playing with the cliches and started living them. (If Liberace had been a South American saxophonist . . . ) All of which leaves us unprepared for Barbieri's measured contributions to a recent album called Afro-Cubano Chant (Hip Bop). Slotted rather incongruously into a group that includes pianist Bob James (of the group Fourplay) and vibist Mike Mainieri (of Steps Ahead), Barbieri offers a solid and promising middle path between mainstream jazz harmonies and his own sweepingly melodic approach to improvisation. Whether the Little Cat will apply any of this to his upcoming Chicago show, only he knows. If not, count on plunging headlong into the textured swath of his sound in order to enjoy the night. Saturday, 7:30 PM, Park West, 322 W. Armitage; 929-5959 or 559-1212. NEIL TESSER
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/James Crump--RSP.