Kenny Barron Quintet – Concentric Circles
(Impulse Records XXX. Review by Peter Vacher)
Pianist Kenny Barron, now 74 and an NEA Jazz Master, is at the commanding heights of the music these days. He tours internationally, teaches widely and is a coveted recording companion. Concentric Circles marks the debut of his new quintet, this set to be his touring line-up for the coming months. Featuring the conventional format of trumpet (Mike Rodriguez) and tenor-saxophone (Dayna Stephens) with a rhythm team of bassist Kiyoshi Kitagawa and drummer Johnathan Blake, it unfurls a number of previously-unheard Barron originals alongside several compositions by other renowned writers.
The opener, DPW, named for Barron’s Brooklyn neighbourhood, Ditmas Park West, is a spirited hard bop outing, with Blake’s energy and drive the standout. The title track follows and is in ¾ time, the harmonies more subtle as the melody ebbs and flows, with piano uppermost, and the horn men easing into their solos. If anything Rodriquez is the more interesting soloist, the widely-experienced Stephens tending to the discursive in his improvisation before bassist Kitagawa has his go.
Blue Waters is rather more vibrant, Stephens sinuous, almost Getz-ian in his sonority, Barron’s impeccable keyboard precision and bluesy touch noteworthy. The Veloso-Mendes composition Aquele Frevo Axe induces the pianist’s more lyrical side, his affection for Brazilian music at its centre. The vastly more urgent Von Hangman with its zigzag movement proves both challenging to play and rewarding to hear, Stephens more potent and Rodriguez clearly relishing his chance even if again it’s Barron’s boppish figures that really score.
Lenny White’s L’S Bop is the most pleasing track on the album by far with trumpet and tenor at their vibrant best, the full potential of the quintet underpinned by Blake’s hard-swinging cross-rhythms and the strong bass work of Kitigawa. For now, it’s enough to say that Barron himself is in often sublime form on the album, viz his nicely-jagged solo reading of Monk’s Reflections with which it ends even if the session’s overall air is one of mostly careful deliberation rather than all out intensity. I suspect that there’s plenty more to come from this group once they’ve settled in and got the measure of the material in live performance.
Peter Vacher’s book ‘Swingin’ on Central Avenue’ won the 2016 ARSC Best History in Jazz Music Award