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By Michael Henningsen

Steve Barta makes a habit of letting his imagination run away with him. He takes inspiration from works of art, people he meets, places he visits and the wide range of indigenous musics that interest him. And he paints his own music with bold strokes and vivid colors.

Best known, perhaps, as a jazz pianist with a penchant for classical music and a unique talent for making jazz and classical two great tastes that go together, Barta is also an accomplished composer, producer and author. He has performed his original works with various symphonies, jazz ensembles and on solo piano to audiences worldwide.

Barta's third recording, Blue River (Source Music), is the finest example of the pianist's favorite muse--mixing the old with the new and giving the resulting music a decidedly Brazilian rhythmic twist. Appearing with him on the record are legendary flutist Herbie Mann (who also served as co-producer) and renowned guitarist Bruce Dunlap. The songs, like Barta's music in general, are far-reaching, intensely expressive and soothing. His is a magical formula. So magical, in fact, that Barta recently joined a distinguished list of concert pianists when he was recognized by Steinway & Sons Co. as a "Steinway Artist." The company provides him with a Steinway concert grand piano on any stage in the world.

Barta has built his distinct sound on both tradition and studied innovation. His solo works are relatively short with regard to most jazz compositions and based on simple, straightforward themes. While he's the first to point out his various influences, he staunchly refuses to pigeonhole his music into jazz, classical or any other category. Steve Barta's music, in that sense, is uniquely Barta.

Whether he's working as a solo artist, with an ensemble or in one of the many other capacities in which he lives as an artist, Barta is nothing if not true to himself. And so, with hands poised at the keyboard, Steve Barta plays his sweet future for all to hear.

--Michael Henningsen

Steve Barta will give a solo piano performance Friday, June 13 at the KiMo Theatre. Concert begins at 8 p.m. Tickets are $10 and available at the KiMo Theatre Box Office and at all TicketMaster outlets.

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