Review by Jean Timmons
His credentials are impressive. Scotty Barnhart has performed or recorded with a wide range of artists, e.g., Wynton Marsalis and Frank Sinatra; he is a professor of jazz trumpet at Florida State University, has been a featured soloist with the Count Basie Orchestra, and wrote the book The World of Jazz Trumpet. The recently released Say It Plain reflects much diversity as well. This potpourri of musical genres and stylists may appeal to many people; but for this reviewer there is too much variety. It's a variety show instead of a cohesive performance by Scotty Barnhart, the musician. Musicians joining Barnhart include Clark Terry ("Pay Me My Money"), trumpeter Wynton Marsalis ("Con Alma"), pianists Ellis Marsalis (for two tracks), Marcus Roberts (three tracks), Bill Peterson (five tracks), and Bruce Barth (one track), vocalist Jamie Davis (one track) and so on. The core group seems to be pianist Peterson, bassist Rodney Jordan, and drummer Leon Anderson Jr. Obviously it is an ambitious and well-coordinated project. The music was recording over three sessions, beginning in New Orleans, then in Tallahassee, Florida, and finally in New York. With all that effort, many listeners should find a song or songs appealing in this program.
In the recording's notes, Barnhart writes that John Coltrane is his "favorite musician" and opens the program with his own arrangement/interpretation of "Giant Steps," turning it into a ragtime piece complete with a whistle. Drummer Anderson is the whistle blower. In this performance can be seen another aspect of the music - it attempts to be "danceable" jazz and projects a kind of joy. This joy is exemplified in the title track, "Say It Plain," a Barnhart composition, which in one passage the drums give off a sense of tap dancing. Another notably joyful piece is "Put on a Happy Face," featuring Peterson on piano, Greg Williams on bass, the stellar brushwork of drummer Anderson, and the sparkling solo turns of Barnhart.
What about Barnhart's playing? He is very lyrical, with mainly a pure, simple style, which he displays to telling effect on "Haley's Passage," "The Burning Sands," "I've Never Been in Love Before," and "I'm Glad There Is You." On "Haley's Passage," Barnhart incorporates his flumpet, the guitar of Rick Lollar, and the tenor saxophone of Todd Williams. The flumpet has a pleasant sound, on the order of a flugelhorn, to this reviewer's ears. Marcus Roberts joins the program for "Sands" and imparts some straightahead jazz to the business. For "I've Never" Barnhart displays much technical dexterity with his horn. And "I'm Glad" is a fine opportunity for Barnhart to show off his ballad chops.
Indeed, a little something for everyone best characterizes this new release. For those of us who have rarely heard the piano playing of papa Marsalis, "Dedicated to You" offers a pleasingly romantic trumpet-piano treatment of the old chestnut. When vocalist Jamie Davis steps up to croon, ala Nat "King" Cole, "Young at Heart," one asks what is there left? The answer soon comes with a finale featuring Clark Terry doing his mumbling routine.