Album reviews

Kenny Barron – ‘The Source’

Kenny Barron – The Source

(Artwork Records ARTR2202. Album review by Leonard Weinreich)

Imagine, for a moment, you’re a jazz pianist.

You’re alone, seated on a piano stool at a Steinway D, facing a microphone on an otherwise empty stage in a Parisian theatre built in the 1880s. No bass player. No drummer.

So, how do you feel? Apprehensive? Terrified? Exposed?

In all likelihood, all three. But, if you’re jazz master Kenny Barron, fear evaporates as your fingers caress the keyboard.

“Playing solo is still nerve-wracking” says Barron who hasn’t made an unaccompanied recording for over 30 years. However, this album, ‘Source’ is worth the long wait. Barron, who radiates honesty and profundity, applies his formidable technique to draw on jazz piano styles from lusty stride onwards.

This remarkable solo album allows ample space for four of Barron’s own compositions plus a brace by Thelonious Monk, another couple by Billy Strayhorn and Duke Ellington and a venerable late 1920’s standard, ‘I’m Confessin’ That I Love You’, beloved of Louis Armstrong, Fats Waller, Lester Young and Dizzy Gillespie.

He launches the album with his own ‘What If’, an urgent piece with flashes of anger built on agile runs, dissonances and an insistent bass figure, posing more questions than it chooses to answer. Approaching the two Strayhorn and Duke compositions, Barron intensifies the lyricism of the impressionistic ‘Isfahan’ and even injects a swinging pulse into an ethereal version of ‘Daydream’.

Barron shows a significant affinity to Thelonious Monk. Without ever reproducing the composer’s idiosyncratic keyboard mannerisms, he still succeeds in conjuring Monk’s commanding presence by inhabiting his ideas on ‘Téo’ and ‘Well You Needn’t’. Curiously, applying some muscular stride, he also invokes an intrepid Monkian spirit on ‘I’m Confessin’.

Three of Barron’s originals, ‘Dolores Street’, ‘Sunshower’ and the minor key, sinuously Latin ‘Phantoms’ are intense, contemplative piano meditations that reflect poignant events and personal memories, themes he develops with consummate elegance.

This thoughtful and rewarding album was produced by Jean-Philippe Allard and atmospherically engineered by Denis Caribaux. But, gentlemen, do we have to hang around for another 30 years for more?

Recorded 13 July 2022 at Théâtre de L’Athénée Louis Jouvet, Paris, France.

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Categories: Album reviews, Reviews

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