If you're a Joe Henderson fan, his 1980 (re-released twice since) trio album Barcelona can be recommended but with one caveat. Let it be known this album is nothing like the string of tribute albums he released in the 1990's that resurrected his career. While casual listeners might immediately dismiss it as avant-garde, Barcelona is actually an improvisatory, exploratory statement that might best be described as THORNY. Simultaneously, it is also an experiment in minimalism (just sax/bass/drums), yet one that will repay repeated listening, especially for those who are already familiar with Joe's style.
The 28-minute title track is divided into two parts (to accommodate its original pressing on vinyl) and was recorded at Wichita State University in 1977. It opens with a long, occasionally abrasive duet between Henderson and bassist Wayne Darling, who arco playing summons a Vitous-like fury. Drummer Ed Soph soon joins in, and this sprawling track moves through a variety of moods, including a very rhythmic section at the 13-minute mark. Part 2 is fast and ferocious, and includes Soph's solo. The audience seems mesmerized until the very end, and occasionally Joe will stray from his mike, but otherwise the sound is good for a not-very-high-profile live recording.
The album's other two tracks, "Mediterranean Sun" and "Y Yo La Quiero" both run about five minutes each, and are much more accessible. Recorded in a German studio in 1978, these showcase Joe at his minimalistic best: no drums, just Joe's wonderful soloing backed by Darling's bass.
Once again, this album is definitely not for first-timers, nor is it background music. The extended title track may be rough going at first, but speaking for Joe's fans we can be thankful these dates were saved for posterity. Free? No, it might set you back a bit (especially if you're looking for the original cover with Gaudi's architecture), but well worth the time and effort spent tracking it down. Every time I listen to this album, I like it more.