Kenny Barron Trio

We were both looking forward to the performance by the Kenny Barron Trio as one of the highlights of the Festival and we were in no way disappointed. In tandem with bassist Kiyoshi Kitagawa and drummer Jonathan Blake, the pianist offered a beautifully structured set of music. Although distanced, the Absopure Soundstage provided a view of the river, with its moving boats and ships as background, providing an intimate sense of being there. Barron’s set consisted of tunes he has played and recorded many times, and yet the band dug into them with great engagement, making them sound fresh. This trio has been together for a long time, and it showed in their flawless performance.

To begin, Barron chose “How Deep Is the Ocean,” played in a relaxed, loping manner with a double-time feel that eventually gained fire as it evolved, providing a chance for the musicians to warm up and settle into the groove. The set moved on to a combination of standards, Barron originals and compositions by other jazz musicians. Three of these were featured on the trio’s last album Book of Intuition: Thelonious Monk’s rarely heard “Shuffle Boil,” and two Barron tunes, “Bud Like” and “Cook’s Bay.” The first of these stayed relatively close to the original 1955 recording, although it began with the piano playing the introductory bass line, but as if to make up for it, bassist Kitagawa was provided with ample space to solo, with Blake’s subtle swinging drums to follow. “Bud Like” is a virtuosic tribute to Bud Powell that indirectly tips a hat to one of the latter’s best-known compositions, “Tempus Fugit.” Taken at a fast tempo, it provided a display of virtuosic bop and post-bop pianism, perfectly underored by Blake, whose melodic solo fit perfectly into the arrangement. The slower, relaxed, Latin-tinged “Cook’s Bay” provided another opportunity to admire Barron’s compositional talents.

The trio returned to the Latin rhythms with the tender bossa nova ballad “Aquele Frevo Axé,” showing once again Barron’s great feeling that for this kind of music, which, it has been reported, he acquired during his five-year stint with Dizzy Gillespie. Indeed, when one of us first heard him play in Warsaw with the master trumpeter in 1965, the set consisted almost exclusively of tunes that had the “Latin tinge.”

The recital ended, as it began, with a standard, Eubie Blake’s “Memories of You,” played solo by the leader. It was a perfect finale to a most satisfying set.