26 July 2004

Kenny Barron in Almuñécar

By Tapani Lausti

One of the joys of living in Andalucia is the annual Jazz en la Costa, staged in July in Almuñécar's El Majuelo tropical park, under an illuminated castle and surrounded by palm trees. During the last few years we have enjoyed in this magnificent setting the music of Chano Dominguez, Don Byron, David Sanchez and Gonzalo Rubalcaba, among others.

This year we chose to attend the concert of the Kenny Barron Quintet. As Dave Gelly says in his review of this quintet's new album Images, at first glance the instrumentation may seem lightweight. But when the music started, it was obvious that the frontline of flute (Anne Drummond) and vibes (Stefon Harris) had surprising strength in the sound it produced.

I have enjoyed Kenny Barron's music ever since I first heard him in Helsinki in the early 60s, playing in Dizzy Gillespie's quintet. The second time I heard him live, he was playing solo piano at London's Tenor Clef club some time in the 90s. Of his albums, Scratch made an immediate impression on me as something very special.

In his new quintet Barron has surrounded himself with younger musicians and the result is a delight. In Almuñécar the interplay between the leader and drummer Kim Thompson was excellent and at faster tempos created a mesmerising swing. Bassist Kiyoshi Kitagawa showed real talent in both ensemble play and solos.

It was good to see Barron contributing to the breakdown of the gender barrier which still harms jazz's image. Having two young female artists in a jazz band is something one comes across regrettably seldom.

Barron is an artist in the best jazz piano tradition. Shortly before his death, Stan Getz said: "There are only three pianists left, Hank [Jones], Tommy [Flanagan], and Kenny." (See Gary Giddins, Visions of Jazz: The First Century, p. 409) Tommy Flanagan died in 2001.

On the liner notes of the Voyage album, Getz is quoted as saying of his fellow musicians that "they are the kind of musicians who almost sound as if they are classically trained because everything they touch is correct. Even though they have the drive of a jazz musician, they have the touch of pure classicists." Of Barron, Getz said that he "plays every piece, wanting to give Kenny Barron to the piece, and not make a piece Kenny Barron."

These Kenny Barron albums are in my collection (updated November 2019):

As a sideman:

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