May 18, 2024

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CD review: Kenny Barron – The Source 2023: Video, CD cover

At 19, Kenny Barron was already a noted piano stylist when he left Philadelphia for New York in 1962. A five-year stint with Dizzy Gillespie soon followed, and then sideman gigs with a host of the top names in modern jazz.

He released the first of about 50 albums a decade later, by which time he had drawn a range of influences into a strong personal voice. This release, Barron’s first solo piano album in more than 40 years, conveys his urbane angularities with warmth, elegance and a sensitive touch. Thelonius Monk and Duke Ellington are both referenced twice, the standard “(I’m) Confessin’ (That I Love You)” is unpacked, and four previously recorded originals are made over to complete the set. The album starts with the discordant bounce of “What If?”, an original first heard on the 1986 quintet release of the same name. Here it is introduced by a dazzling two-handed rumination before settling into an up-tempo romp.

As right-hand lines spin speedily into the upper register, the left hand delivers the urgency of a firm ostinato bass. “Phantoms”, from the same album, probes dark corners and brings the set to a close. The second track, “Isfahan”, is the first of two beautifully conceived Strayhorn/Ellington covers. As Barron pulls the theme this way and that, gripping narrative twists conjure mixed emotions along the way. “Daydreams”, the album’s ballad, is perfectly pitched later in the set.

Barron has long absorbed Monk’s sharp angles into his multi-layered aesthetic. The playful thrust of “Teo” comes three numbers in, “Well You Needn’t” is deconstructed at speed and Barron’s shape-shifting modernism thrills. Elsewhere, the pianist’s originals explore subtler shades of impressionist modal jazz. “Dolores Street, SF” is a waltz, “Sunshower” Latin-inflected and Barron’s fluid drive and grasp of form is exemplary.

The Source is the first solo album by pianist Kenny Barron in a long time since his last solo album, Kenny Barron At The Piano, was released in 1981. This time, he offers original compositions mixed with compositions by Ellington, Monk, etc…

The artist’s interpretations feature a mix of classical music influences and a strong sense of improvisation. One can reasonably be carried away by Kenny Barron’s particularly clever arrangements. Here, everything is done to carry the listener, beyond their soul, towards contemplation. Kenny Barron is a well-rounded musician, having played with Dizzy Gillespie from 1962 to 1967, and then following other paths that led him to play with Stan Getz, James Moody, Joe Henderson, Freddie Hubard, Ornette Coleman, Chet Baker…

With The Source, a bit of all these souls meet and take us on a journey through the notes of Kenny Barron, as fluid as the ripples of a stream. It takes time to build such an artist who has nothing left to prove and who here, takes all the risks of a solo project, which must be acknowledged is perfectly assumed and mastered.

The Source - Kenny Barron

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