Common Ground by Barry Danielian – reviewed by Chris Mann 


Trumpeter/Producer/Arranger Barry Danielian was trained in jazz from an early age and he has performed with such stellar talents as Dizzy Gillespie, Illinois Jacquet, Paquito D’Rivera, Branford Marsalis, Eddie Palmieri and Tito Puente. 

Starting in 1984, he toured widely with world-class Latin bands and began a series of recordings with such artists as Marc Anthony and Ricky Martin.  Touring stepped up in 1985 with the first of several tours with Blood, Sweat and Tears, Paul Shaffer and the World's Most Dangerous Band, Queen Latifah, and Jon Bon Jovi.  Barry started the following decade by touring with Tower of Power.

During the mid-1990s, Barry began to build his reputation as one of New York City’s most in-demand session players and arrangers, with more than 200 big-name sessions to his name, including countless film and TV jingle credits.  In 1997, Barry cut down on touring to spend more time with his family.  Nevertheless, he performs regularly on Broadway and in clubs, while serving on the musical performance faculties at three universities in the New York City area.

Barry holds a degree in jazz performance from the Berklee College of Music, where he graduated with the 1982 Faculty Performance Award. In 1984 he was honoured with the University of Notre Dame Collegiate Jazz Competition's Outstanding Jazz Soloist Award, and in 2000 and 2001 became the only unsigned artist nominated for the Oasis Smooth Jazz Awards. 

Now signed to Tariqah records, he has combined his feel for the pulse of urban music with his spiritual and political sensibilities and delivered “Common Ground”.

Street Smarts throws you in at the deep end with its funky bass, great chugging rhythm, lovely splash cymbals, moody trumpet, and jazzy chorus.  It has a great 70’s influenced breakdown and it’s fierce!  The title track is very bouncy with amazing drum programming and a very brassy and sassy opening. The horn sound is very confident and Eddie Henderson style (remember “Say You Will”?). The rhythm guitar is very upfront and appealing.

When I’m Away is a cool, hi-tech ballad with classy doubled horn lines and a dramatic John Barry opening.  The funky Khadijah’s Dance has in-the-pocket keyboards and a real strutting rhythm.  There’s Brecker-style horn pizzazz too. 

I enjoy the insane bass sound and slow, heavy hip-hop groove on the melodic Count your Blessings. The rhythm guitar is strong in this sparsely-arranged tune.  First Treasure has lovely ethereal percussion and keys.  Combine these with that dreamy flugelhorn and a convincing string synth sound, and you have a song that’s both gentle and lyrical. 

Hold tight for Preconceived Notions. It’s got chirping crickets and chopped-up vibes.  It has wisps of sampled vocals, busy hip-hop rhythm and funky bass.  In my rough notes (which sometimes give lots away about how the music really makes me feel) I wrote: “If you like the Breckers’ “Big Idea”, you’ll like this stuff”.   I stand by that.  The melodic My Brothers Keeper has a strong male vocal.  The scratch samples and busy electronic rhythm contrast with the very gentle flugelhorn lines.  It’s a catchy song with a great hook. 

Tasawwuf!  What a title – what a song!!  Scratch samples and percussion kick it all off. The tight bass guitar chords and that very low synth bass will make you dance your socks off. Everything fits together like a jigsaw – the chorus is lovely with great spacey keyboard sounds.  My notes for this one?  “This HURTS!!! Too much funk!”  I’d say this is my favourite tune on the CD.  There’s an old-skool feel to Keep On Keepin’ On with its snazzy brass and sneaky bassline.  With Danielian’s cuddly trumpet over the top, it’s lovely head-nodding stuff! 

The intro to Righteous Indignation is very atmospheric and leads into a kind of bizarre slow march with a broken drum pattern, overlaid with sound effects.  The bassline, where you can pick one out, is menacing.  I’ll leave it to you to place an interpretation on this song – I have found my own interpretation more unsettling each time I’ve heard it.  Facing East has some of the atmosphere of Incognito’s awesome “Millennium” but is less intense and becomes discordant towards the end. 

This album is packed with inventive rhythms and energy and yet there are moments of calm and some real surprises.  As I listened to this CD and read the liner notes, I was certain that I had heard Barry’s name before.  Sure enough, he is featured on several of my Spyro Gyra albums – as a member of the No Sweat Horns, no less. 

I’m surprised to have waited so long to hear a CD with him as frontman.  Reading (not too much) between the lines, Barry Danielian is a thoughtful man with a lot to say.  I look forward to hearing how he uses this strong solo voice in future projects.



Tariqah Records – TR-01   Producer – Barry Danielian