Review: Kenny Barron Trio

Kenny Barron Trio
(Ronnie Scott’s, February 10th 2011, first night of three)

A God can do that. According to the poet Rilke*, Gods sneak off to places where mortals can’t follow them by disappearing through the gaps between the strings of a lyre. I can’t vouch for how he got there, (Kenny Barron is quite a big guy), but in the Englishman Ray Noble’s tune from 1934, “The Very Thought of You,” Barron reached a special zone, and was on a noumenal plane. The beauty and perfection of his every single touch of the piano, the freedom, weightlessness and effortlessnesss of a breeze of melodic fragments just floating off was something unforgettable. In those wonderful moments Barron was indeed God-like.

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But this was an evening of contrasts when moments of fluency and ease seemed to alternate with the less comfortable. The breakneck (crotchet = 280) tempo chosen for original New York Attitude which opened the second set didn’t seem to imply much about the attitude of New York, other than perhaps impatience and perfunctoriness. It just didn’t seem to settle – maybe that was the point. Barron hid the first statement of Monk’s “Well You Needn’t” under spurts of semi-quavers which made it sound like Sonny Rollins’ “Airegin”, so it came as a relief at the very end to have Monk’s clarity and jaunty asymmetry brought to life.

Japanese-born bassist Kiyoshi Kitagawa has an extraordinary technique and all kinds of options, aided by what appears to be a third finger as strong if not stronger than the others. His timing is impeccable, but he appeared to have some tuning problems. Drummer Johnathan Blake was given several moments to shine, which he took with style. I found myself sometimes uneasy with a tendency to push the first beat quite hard, particularly in the first half closer “Cook’s Bay.” But these earthbound moments were quickly forgotten, while the memory of those glimpses of deity and perfection will never fade.

The suppport band was John Critchinson on piano, who saluted – and personified – the continuity of Ronnies, with Dave Cliff on guitar, and Alec Dankworth on bass. They fully deserved the affectionate and sincere applause they received. They were also having fun in the closing number, Benny Golson’s Blues March trading and bantering the mordent figures from the tune. What civilised conversation.

(*) Rilke: 3rd Sonnet to Orpheus

Kenny Barron will be at Ronnie Scott’s tonight February 11th and tomorrow 12th.

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