Sunday, May 13, 2018

Kenny Barron Quintet - Concentric Circles (Blue Note, 2018)

The newest version of NEA Jazz Master pianist and composer Kenny Barron's band features new edition of the Kenny Barron Quintet with saxophonist Dayna Stephens, trumpeter Mike Rodriguez, bassist Kiyoshi Kitagawa, and drummer Johnathan Blake. They create a very appealing modern mainstream jazz LP that displays excellent ensemble playing and some spirited solo statements. "DPW" opens the album with a brightly swinging full band romp, with the horns framing the rhythm section and everything meshing well together. A nice saxophone solo shakes loose, followed by a probing trumpet interlude, with Barron's piano leading the bass and drums through their paces in a rapid and rhythmic trio section, as boiling drums simmer to the end of the performance. This rich rhythmic foundation continues in the undercurrent of "Blue Waters," setting a medium pace for the horns to glide into. They ease into a bouncy rhythm that is quite pleasant, setting up a strong trumpet feature, which develops a punchy and propulsive solo, before passing the baron to Stephens who develops an intricate statement of his own. Barron's own centerpiece is rich and patient, allowing the music to breathe and interacting well with the bass and drums. "Von Hangman" has a fast paced rhythm and is arranged to have a little big band feel to the opening portion of the performance. This leads to a string of impressive solo statements, beginning with Stephens, whose tone is engaging and hot enough to keep pace with the opening. Barron's piano playing is masterful, as he lopes grandly through the thicket of bass and drums, then bringing the horns back to take the tune out in fine fashion. The group establishes an engaging mid-tempo setting for "Baile" with Barron taking the reins for an intricate and slightly exotic melody that is embellished by the saxophone and trumpet, in solo and conversational configurations. Kitagawa's rich tone on the bass anchors the group and provides a firm foundation for the trumpet and saxophone to trade inventive short phrases over. The rhythm section bubbles in an enticing fashion with Barron's bouncy and buoyant piano leading group in a congenial manner. "L's Bop" has a rapid and intricate melody with the musicians intertwining with one another and then setting Rodriguez loose for a fast paced and well articulated solo with the rhythm team pushing hard, and Stephens taking over and engaging with loping elastic bass to good effect. The band swings briskly, allowing the appealing melody and the story of the bebop idiom to flow as Barron effortlessly demonstrates a lifetime's worth of polishing his craft in a wonderful feature. "I'm Just Sayin'" develops a sly and spirited groove that allows much room for excellent ensemble playing and soloing, with a bluesy hard bop feel permeating the whole performance. Barron concludes with a solo version of Thelonious Monk's "Reflections" that ends the album on a thoughtful and gracious note. Concentric Circles - amazon.com

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