- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 12, 2002

An unusual stroke of good luck in the guise of Marlon Brando shot tenor saxophonist Gato Barbieri from his place as a well-respected jazz musician onto the turntables of overs worldwide.
Bernardo Bertolucci's controversial 1972 film "Last Tango in Paris," which features a number of Mr. Brando's steamy scenes, is driven along by Mr. Barbieri's passionate, emotional Grammy-winning score.
Now, nearing the age of 70, Mr. Barbieri has released his 50th album, "The Shadow of the Cat," a record that returns to his familiar, passionate blend of smooth jazz and Latin rhythms. He plays tomorrow night at the Birchmere.
So what does the jazz legend think of his signature theme 30 years down the road?
"Well, I tell you, it's so beautiful, I think it's not mine," Mr. Barbieri, says over the phone from his home in New York City. "Bernardo would say 'I want some kind of music between Hitchcock and European music' and that's what I did."
He re-recorded a version of "Last Tango" for the new album, and his fiery tenor sax still manages to sound fresh and powerful, pushing aside the soothing backdrop instruments with the intensity of his playing. On the phone he is reflective, his voice husky, his Argentine Spanish accent still strong in his speech.
"I always wanted to play like I walk and I did that," Mr. Barbieri says happily. "I play now completely natural."
It is difficult to argue with his assessment, but his return to the music scene was not always a sure thing. Mr. Barbieri went into semi-retirement in the 1990s after numerous health problems (including triple-bypass surgery), and the death of his first wife, Michelle.
His decision to return to music and touring, with 1997's "Que Pasa," came around the same time he fathered a son, Christian, with his new wife, Laura. The late 1990s found him frequently on the road and recording, including a featured role in the 2000 film "Calle 54," about the Latin Jazz scene.
"I started to have a pain in my heart, I knew that I was supposed to do something," Mr. Barbieri says of his return to music.
Going back on tour was only the latest move in what has been an unconventional music career. Mr. Barbieri got his start playing with the orchestra of Argentine legend Lalo Schifrin while he was still in his teens, performing traditional Latin tunes. In the early 1950s, he became involved with Don Cherry and the avant-garde jazz scene and began cutting chaotic, fiery tracks with Mr. Cherry and on his own.
"In 45 minutes, we'd play 15 tunes, which means you have to play quickly," Mr. Barbieri says. "So I understand how to play fast."
However, it's the musical period that followed, when he began reintegrating Latin rhythms and influences into his material, that commercial and critical success began to happen. Mr. Barbieri lists 1969's "The Third World" and 1971's "Fenix" among his favorite works, as they combined his experimental free jazz leanings with his Argentine roots.
After 1972's "Last Tango in Paris," he had a string of successful albums exploring his romantic side for A&M; records, which introduced him to trumpeter-producer Herb Alpert. In addition to scoring several more films, he also recorded the bestselling 1976 album "Caliente."
Mr. Alpert actually joins Mr. Barbieri on three tracks on his new album "El Chico," "The Shadow of the Cat" and "Para Todos (For Everyone)."
"Herb was very happy to participate and said that I still play beautifully," Mr. Barbieri notes in his press materials. "We talked about all the musicians we admired who faded away or died young and it was great to realize we were both still doing what we loved, as active in the business as ever."
While Mr. Barbieri does not have any firm plans to retire from recording, he says he prefers playing live to recording in the studio.
"The music is what you know the concert is freedom," he says.
So long as his health is good, he says he plans to continue finding freedom on the road.
"I take it day by day and tomorrow is another day," Mr. Barbieri says. "So at this point I say, my goodness, you did so many things, so I have to be happy."

WHAT: Gato Barbieri
WHERE: The Birchmere, 3701 Mount Vernon Ave., Alexandria
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. tomorrow
PHONE: 703/549-7500

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