Lucid Culture


An Embarrassment of Riches from Kenny Barron on Record and at the Vanguard This Month

Tis the season when venues show their true colors – or try to, anyway. There’s the Lower East Side shed that’s fallen on hard times and has been booked by that odious corporate empire for the past year, trying to relive some former glories with an overpriced residency by a legendary, noisy 90s band. Then there’s that West Village flagship of a global chain of jazz joints, who’ve brought in the trumpeter king of elevator jazz. There are going to even more Jersey license plates than usual this month in the vicinity of West Third Street.

On a more optimistic note, the Village Vanguard has booked timelessly mighty piano sage Kenny Barron for a long stand beginning this Dec 17, where he’s playing at 8:30 and around 11 through the 22nd with a quintet featuring the perennially adrenalizing Johnathan Blake on drums. Then Barron’s going to strip it down to a trio with bassist Buster Wiliams and drummer Tain Watts for the rest of the dates, which run through the 29th.

Barron’s latest record is The Art of the Piano Duo (streaming at Spotify), a lavish archival triple live album recorded with the late, greatly missed Mulgrew Miller on three dates spread over about a ten-year span. This isn’t piano four hands: it’s two of the great purists of the past several decades, locked in on separate pianos that often sound like one. Trying to figure out who’s who can be next to impossible until you determine who’s in which channel (it differs from record to record). In deference to his fleet-fingered friend, Barron’s legendary lefthand usually seems a little lighter than usual. Eventually, Miller’s fondness for gospel reveals itself, along with Barron’s occasional detour toward tropical sounds: in general, he’s the more adventurous one here. The first album dates from 2005, in Marciac, France; the second and third are Swiss shows, from Zurich on May 12, 2001 and Geneva just over a decade later, respectively.

The material is pretty much all midtempo ballads, plus an unexpectedly careening Yardbird Suite and a triumphantly saloonish Blue Monk. The first side opens with Stars Fell on Alabama, where the two pianists’ phrasing is sometimes so swingingly synced that it’s surreal; other times, there’s a little shadowing going on, the echo creating a quasi Fender Rhodes effect. Throughout their collaboration, the two trade expansive solos, each comping chords and/or walking the bass for the other as the tradition calls for it. Nobody’s in a hurry: they can stick with a tune for fifteen minutes or more. This isn’t a record for people with short attention spans.

Each artist also contributes solo pieces. Miller’s take of I Got It Bad and That Ain’t Good, from the Zurich date, turns out to be a stately ballad with a little playful leapfrogging. Barron’s solo version of Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most, from the Geneva set, contrasts saturnine, vampy lustre with jaunty ornamentation: it’s anything but sad. Likewise, his Song for Abdullah- a Abdullah Ibrahim shout-out – balances a precise, scampering approach with steady gravitas. The two close the final disc with a colorfully clustering version of Joy Spring, aptly capsulzing how everybody seemed to be feeling on that May night early in a decade that’s about to close. And none too soon: looks like we’ll have an impeachment to celebrate as the Twenties come roaring in.

December 13, 2019 - Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews

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