Faculty Spotlight: Rahsaan Barber
“This album represents a return to jazz, having gained quite a bit of knowledge about both the saxophone and composition that I’m eager to share.”
One of the bright spots of the pandemic has been the extra time many have found to cultivate interests such as painting, baking, writing, learning a new instrument. For musicians, it’s been hard to be separated from fellow musicians, but it has brought plenty of time for practice and composition. For Assistant Professor Rahsaan Barber, the pandemic gave him the time he needed to write and record his latest album, MOSAIC.
“It’s been ten years since I released Everyday Magic, my first collection of original compositions,” Barber noted, “and let’s just say, it was time. “
After stepping away from jazz to pursue a classical DMA in saxophone performance at the University of Memphis in August 2019, MOSAIC represents a return to the genre for Barber. He credits this time of classical study with new knowledge about the saxophone and composition – and he’s eager to share both.
Barber sought to document and share the work that he’s done over the last decade, in particular with his twin brother, trombonist Roland Barber. He also found himself composing for the “voice” of his friend and fellow member of the Sugartone Brass Band, trumpeter Nathan Warner.
“In the weeks leading up to the recording session, I realized I had written 15 original compositions with their ‘voices’ in mind,” Barber reflected, “and the result, fleshed out by my long-standing trio, is MOSAIC, a double-disc album scheduled for April release.”
Recorded in the fall of 2020, performances and rehearsals with other musicians had been scarce for all involved and Barber noted that it fed their souls to be making music together again. He hopes that listeners will be similarly affected by their performances.
Having never been a fan of double albums, Barber found himself more than a little surprised to have written and recorded one. But as referenced in the title, Barber feels he and his bandmates have created “a hefty volume of work that truly comes together to create a broader picture of what jazz at the height of its powers can accomplish, artistically.”
It’s hard for composers to pick their favorites works, just as a parent can’t name a favorite child, but Barber noted that the final track, “Breonna Taylor (How many more?)” is a current favorite with its combined approach of classical saxophone and an emotional performance from the jazz rhythm section.
Also of note on the album are the tracks “Jambo Rafiki,” which features his brother Roland playing conch shell, and “Panic Point” documenting Barber’s first-ever visit to a haunted woods experience (this one being here in NC and of the same name). “I think we really managed to capture my terror and dread in visiting my very first “haunted” experience,” Barber proclaimed.
UNC music department devotees will also love the track “Catch as Ketch Can” written for emeritus jazz trumpet professor Jim Ketch, who retired from the department this past spring after 43 years at the university. Having been a guest artist with the Jazz area multiple times, Barber has long been an admirer of Ketch’s performance and teaching.
Regardless of which tune you leave a listening session with stuck in your head, Barber was clear that his hope for the listener is a great appreciation and understanding of the range of expression and emotion jazz offers. MOSAIC, now recorded and mixed, awaits funding for its final release this spring. After only a single night on Kickstarter, Barber raised over 50 percent of his funding goal. It’s clear that there were many who couldn’t wait to hear these new tracks.