Richie Barshay is an internationally known percussionist who's played Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Fred Hersch, Esperanza Spalding and the Klezmatics, while also leading his own groups.
The West Hartford native is no stranger to Connecticut jazz and world music fans, and although he's been living and working in New York for several years, he still returns regularly to the Hartford area.
"My journey has taken me far away from home," Barshay, 30, told CTNow. "It strikes me as important to bring that stuff back home as often as possible. Hartford is so unique… The musical heritage there is really special."
Barshay brings his longtime trio — saxophonist and mandolin player Petr Cancura and bassist Garth Stevenson — to the Emanuel Synagogue in West Hartford on Thursday, May 29. The following night, they'll perform at East Granby Public Library. Both shows are free.
Barshay, who graduated from the New England Conservatory, first met Cancura and Stevenson when he was living in Boston. Because of his numerous sideman commitments, however — this month he performs with vocalist Sara Serpa and on Klezmatic trumpeter Frank London's Glass House Project — the trio gigs are all the more rare. Barshay's trio taps into West African and Brazilian rhythms, but they also draw from Americana and bluegrass styles. When one player gets into a different style of music — Malian melodies, for example, or north Mississippi fife and drum music — he'll turn the other two musicians on to it.
"We only play together a handful of times a year," Barshay said. "But over the years we've grown together as musicians... Part of my growth as a musician has been about world music, and Petr and Garth have shared those experiences over the years."
Barshay is also a committed environmentalist who uses sound to heighten awareness of issues. In January, after performing at the Panama Jazz Festival, he accompanied sound engineer and producer Rob Griffin to the Mamoní Valley Preserve, where he recorded sound experiments on chunks of bamboo, submerged rocks and whatever else was around. YouTube footage of Barshay's sonic excursions can be found on his website.
"I went out there knowing I'd be interested in messing around with the natural resources from the lens of percussion," Barshay said. "It's satisfying to do performances that show there's music and percussion all around us… Anything sound-related is my personal way of highlighting that."
While covering so many world-music styles and genres can be daunting, Barshay keeps it all nicely sorted in his head. "The drummer has to represent the bedrock of the sound of a group," he said. "When I travel to Brazil to study or play music, I know I'm in Brazil. When I'm in Hungary, I know that I'm there to play Hungarian music. But I'm still me." Sometimes the transition between styles is quite literal, he said, in that the instruments he plays will be specifically tailored to the music: a jazz gig calls for a trap kit, and tabla and various percussion instruments will accompany him to performances with a Pakistani crossover group. "A percussionist is used to having to be a chameleon.
In September, Barshay will join Hersch and Spalding for a rare week-long residence at the Jazz Standard in New York.
"It's a nice coming together of the three players," Barshay said. "Fred regularly does these guest-artist gigs with different configurations for one night only, but he decided to build a whole week around this one."
THE RICHIE BARSHAY TRIO performs on Thursday, May 29, at 7:30 p.m. at the Emanuel Synagogue in West Hartford and Friday, May 30, at 7 p.m. at East Granby Public Library in East Granby. Both shows are free. Information: emanuelsynagogue.org and egpl.org.Copyright © 2015, CT Now