In June 1971 Gato Barbieri was on the verge of becoming one of jazz’s new stars. He had just recorded “Fenix”, his second album for Flying Dutchman, which saw him temper his previously experimental sound, putting more emphasis on the rhythms and folk music of South America and less on the avant-garde. “Third World”, his debut for the company, had started the process, prompting his recognition as a leader. Bob Thiele, the label’s owner, decided to build Flying Dutchman Night at that year’s Montreux Jazz Festival around Barbieri. Recorded on the Festival’s state-of-the-art equipment, the event and resulting album, “El Pampero”, led to his breakthrough as an artist.
Montreux was a great place to showcase talent. Claude Nobs had started the Festival in 1967, and 1971 was the year it became truly international, with Polydor, Atlantic and Flying Dutchman all recording artists at the event. Flying Dutchman Night included sets from Barbieri, Oliver Nelson, Leon Thomas, Larry Coryell and Eddie Vinson. Nelson’s big band opened the evening, with Barbieri playing an important role in ‘Swiss Suite’, written specially for the occasion. The performance went down a storm, and Barbieri went off to wait for his own set, which took place in the small hours of the morning. If the audience was tired, they were soon invigorated by the performance. Drummer Bernard Purdie returned for his third set of the night, with bassist Chuck Rainey, pianist Lonnie Liston Smith and percussionist Naná Vasconcelos completing Barbieri’s ensemble.
The performance was described by Rolling Stone magazine as stealing the show. The music revealed Barbieri at the top of his game, caught somewhere between his earlier free self and his less frenetic, more accessible future. The use of the music of his homeland – rather than an American musician using foreign rhythms – was an important moment in the history of jazz. The set showed that a non-US musician could take jazz forward. Listening to “El Pampero” reveals what a thrill it must have been to be in the audience. It is very rare to be present when an artist finds their wings: the point at which they go from being one of the crowd to becoming a star. It happened for Gato Barbieri at Montreux in 1971, the moment captured on this release.
By Dean Rudland