Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Kenny Barron 1 + 1 + 1

© -  Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

In Your Own Sweet Way - Composed by Dave Brubeck

“In Your Own Sweet Way is not just a title but could serve as a guide to the piece's performers. According to the composer the song is one that "musicians can adapt to their own uses"—in other words, play in their own sweet way. Certainly many have done just that. "One disc jockey sent me a tape of 32 versions of it," Brubeck once noted, "and another collector told me he had over 50 versions." In fact, Brubeck may have underestimated his song's impact—more than 300 cover versions have been recorded by jazz artists.”
- Ted Gioia, The Jazz Standards: A Guide to the Repertoire [Oxford]

It’s hard to believe that pianist Kenny Barron has been on the Jazz scene for fifty years; first as the perfect sideman in groups led by iconic Jazz masters such as trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie and tenor saxophonist Stan Getz; later in the piano chair of the group Sphere that played the music of pianist Thelonious Monk and included tenor saxophonist Charlie Rouse and drummer Ben Riley, each of whom had long stints as members of Monk’s quartet; lately as what Richard Cook and Brian Morton in their Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th Ed. have described as “a leader of genuine presence and authority.”

Along the way, Kenny has made a few of solo piano and piano and bass duo recordings that allow the listener to more clearly and fully appreciate his approach to Jazz piano without the encumberance of having to play accompany horns.

Although such recordings have become more frequent in recent years, Kenny in a solo or duo setting was a fairly rare occurrence earlier in his career.

Which is why I jumped at the chance to acquire a copy of Kenny’s 1 + 1 + 1 LP on Black Hawk Records when it was issued in 1984 as BKH 50601-1 [it has since been reissued on CD as BKH-506-2].

On it, Kenny is joined by bassists Ron Carter [4 tracks] and Michael Moore [Kenny performs solo on the recordings eight track - ‘Round Midnight].

Adding to my elation is the fact that Kenny along with Michael Moore plays one of my all-time favorite Jazz standards, Dave Brubeck’s In Your Own Sweet Way.

Ira Gitler wrote these liner notes which also appear as an insert to the CD and which will give you more background information on Kenny Barron’s career and some excellent insights into each of the tunes on this classic piano-duo recording.

“1+1+1 usually = 3, and there are three people involved here, but these three divide into two piano-bass duos and, in one instance, a solo piano. The pianist in all situations is Kenny Barron whom critic Neil lesser has called "a portmanteau pianist, summing and summoning up in one style a highly accurate picture of what has gone before, and where it has all led."

Barron once named the pianists who have been his main influences: "Tommy Flanagan, Hank Jones, Barry Harris, Wynton Kelly, McCoy Tyner and Thelonious Monk. And, of course, Bud Powell," he added. "It's impossible not to be influenced by him."

It is a heavy duty list to which Kenny Barron's name can be spliced for the young pianists who have followed him. The talented teenager, heard with Yusef Lateef, James Moody and brother Bill Barron, moved into his early 20s with Dizzy Gillespie quintet in the first half of the 1960s and a lot of people took notice. He went to build his reputation with the bands of Freddie Hubbard, Lateef, Milt Jackson, Jimmy Heath, Stan Getz, Buddy Rich and Ron Carter, among others.

Presently [1983-84] Barron is an integral member of the world-class quartet, Sphere, and also appears in a duo context with various bassists at New York piano rooms such as Bradley's. He is a true keyboard artist in that he can put you into a celestial state by the very sound he extracts from his instrument. The what and how of an artist must be thoroughly wedded, but before Barron's ideas begin to really sink in, you are already captivated by the touch, tone and technique.

Those ideas are lyrical, psyche-penetrating and contain the rhythmic impulses needed to activate the swing gland which, as everyone knows, is located just above the coccyx. Kenny's knowledge of the jazz literature and the way he presents it, makes listening to him so easily delightful that one must be wary not to take the experience lightly. His expertise did not arrive overnight.

Barron has recorded as the leader of a sextet and a quintet. He has also done a solo album. This is a duo album that includes one solo track. Kenny, who did two weeks in Toronto last summer, solo, feels playing alone is the toughest. "In a trio," he says, "you can kind of float over the rhythm section. In a duo you are responsible for making more happen. You have to play stronger but there's more opportunity for interplay."

Here Barron had a chance to interact with long-time colleague, Ron Carter, and first-time collaborator, Michael Moore. Each complements Kenny in his own special way: Carter more bottom-oriented; Moore more toward the upper reaches. Both are superb and Barren responds in kind.

The Man I Love is a most unsentimental, up-tempo treatment of Gershwin's evergreen, showing off Barron's fleet right hand and Moore's equally swift dexter.
Carter's line, United Blues, is very much in an Oscar Pettiford groove and the good blues abound.

Ron stays on board for Prelude To A Kiss, underlining perfectly Barron's interpretation of the Ellington classic. The first side closes in the Dukedom with Moore on bass for Barney Bigard's C Jam Blues. Kenny gives the venerable riff a Monkish cast, both in the statement of the head and the opening part of the improvisation. Then Barron bops with the best of them. Does Kenny play C Jam a la Monk all the time? "This was the first time I ever played it this way."

Moore is the bassist on Dave Brubeck's standard, In Your Own Sweet Way, where Barren's flow is quietly tidal, exposing all the harmonic touch-points along the way. Michael's delicate plucking enhances the mood.

John Coltrane's Giant Steps is not a song you hear everyday. Kenny combines filigree and fire in a completely absorbing performance, backed by Ron's sure hands and beat.

On 'Round Midnight Barron takes you on a solo tour of Monk's witching hour and its environs, bewitchingly, with tempo shifts and subtle effects.

The bass is back on Victor Young's Beautiful Love, the highlight of which is two choruses of four-bar exchanges between Barron and Carter, the latter quoting from Topsy, and the former easing seamlessly back into the melody chorus from his final "four."

Kenny Barron is more than merely good. He is a presence and a personality at the keyboard. His two bassists are from the same top shelf. 1+1+1 may add up to 3 but 1+1+1 is a sum far greater than its equal parts.”

I’m sure you won’t be surprised to learn that Kenny along with Michael Moore perform In Your Own Sweet Way on the following video montage which serves as a tribute to Kenny and his music.

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