Ed Barrett has a presence on YouTube, but there isn't a lot of rousing concert footage or material from his albums. You'll find instead a short interview piece where he talks about why he plays jazz, his background, and some footage of him goofing around on drums and piano. He seems like a quiet, unassuming guy who loves to play jazz guitar; sort of like an accountant who does gigs on the side. But his latest release, Hocus Focus, demonstrates his abilities and passions in a very direct way.
He is quite the expert guitar picker. Barrett plays mostly mainstream jazz with his trio, with some progressive elements thrown in. There's not much funky stuff or anything that suggests that he is surrounded by the environment of his New Orleans home in here. He apparently also plays with other groups locally, such as Les Syncopators de Bayou, and perhaps that comes out. This is not a problem or a criticism, since his playing is really excellent in his chosen style, as he varies from quiet, introspective pieces to more burning, swinging, even rocking-out pieces with this trio. Grant Green and Pat Martino come to mind when Barrett plays, although he isn't just imitating his influences or predecessors.
Barrett moves easily between standards like "Stella by Starlight" and "All the Things You Are" to his own compositions. Some pieces are played pretty straight, such as the closer, "Moonlight Serenade," while others like "Autumn Leaves" are molded into pretty much unrecognizable shapes. I don't mind a bit, especially on this tune, since I never cared for it. Barrett's version I like a lot, with its fast forward motion and heavy, almost surf music beat. The centerpiece for me is "Shark Tooth," an original piece that lets him stretch out and move from bop riffs to rock to more progressive elements. Here he also displays best his interactions with bassist Joshua Gouzy, as they trade phrases back and forth.
If there is a shortcoming to this album it has to do with the slightly limiting trio format. Barrett's guitar dominates every tune, and while his bandmates get a little time of their own (especially Chris Davis on "Stella"), there needs to be a bit more variety. A guest appearance on two tracks by a horn player would have been a perfect change-up for the album, allowing the listener to take a short break from Barrett's somewhat overwhelming presence. However, overall, this is a fine straight-ahead jazz guitar album, deserving of a wide audience.