Pianist Kenny Barron is one of the finest jazz musicians on the planet and his impressive CV includes the all-time greats from a 1960s tenure with Dizzy Gillespie to regular accompanist with Stan Getz, and recording at various times with the likes of James Moody and Yusef Lateef, to mention but a few. However, from the mid-1970s onwards, Barron has regularly recorded as a leader and in the early noughties this included two fabulous live sets in New York. With six decades of work before him, Kenny Barron has stacked up a wealth of experience. Twenty selections were whittled down to ten, and many of these have served as a vehicle for regular live performances.
Thus the recently re-invigorated and re-launched historical label Impulse, home for Ahmad Jamal as well as Duke Ellington’s smaller group projects during the 1960s, is an appropriate setting, then, for Kenny Barron’s latest endeavour, another trio album this time in the studio with young Turks Kiyoshi Kitagawa featuring on double bass while Jonathan Blake occupies the drums with aplomb. Occupying the executive producer role is none other than Frenchman Jean-Philippe Allard and it was he who was responsible for many of the Gitanes/Verve recordings of the 1990s on which Kenny Barron participated along with Joe Henderson and Randy Weston. Without question, the whole is enhanced by a classy French input to the graphic presentation.
The new recording took only two days to complete and there is certainly a spontaneity about the music that indicates that the musicians allowed the music to flow organically and the listener is most certainly the beneficiary. Seven of the pieces are Barron originals previously recorded, but here re-interpreted and a continued love of the music of Monk is attested to with two covers while Charlie Haden is the other composer revisited. Of particular note is the warm tribute to the recently departed bassist Charlie Haden on ‘Nightfall’ and this is supplemented in the sleeve notes by a personal written tribute by Barron.
Barron’s own influences beyond Monk are revealed on the cu-bop driven ‘Bud Like’ that has similarities to ‘Un poco loco’ in its phrasing. An underlying Brazilian influence permeates the opener, ‘Magic Dance’, which is a Barron original that he has rarely performed and only recorded on Japanese import previously. What impresses is how the new versions condense the larger group settings of the original versions. This is the case of a piece such as ‘Lunacy’ where Eddie Henderson, John Stubblefield added brass phrasings to the original live performance, the trio reading still manages to sound bigger than the sum of its parts. Two lesser known Monk originals, ‘Light Blue’ and ‘Shuffle Boil’, the latter a solo number for Barron complete the package and, like Barry Harris and Steve Lacy, are testimony to Barron’s abiding love of the be-bop maestro. Masterful craftsmanship from the leader.