Kenny Barron – Beyond This Place (ENG review)

Artwork Records/Pias – Street date May 10th 2024
Kenny Barron – Beyond This Place (ENG review)

If, like me, you think you’ve known the name Kenny Barron since your earliest childhood, it’s perfectly normal, because the pianist and composer, 13-time Grammy nominee, member of the DownBeat Hall of Fame, is arguably the greatest jazz pianist currently active, with a continued link to the golden age of mid-century jazz, celebrating his 80th birthday… and having associated with other jazz greats (Dizzy, James Moody, Stan Getz, Freddie Hubbard, Yusef Lateef), offering once again an album that is totally impeccable, if not grandiose. “Beyond This Place” presents a quintet featuring one of the most talented and synergistic groups Barron has ever led. An intergenerational ensemble, it includes his longtime rhythm section, bassist Kiyoshi Kitagawa and drummer Johnathan Blake, as well as the unparalleled vibraphonist Steve Nelson, who received one of his first recording mentions with Barron on the pianist’s 1982 LP “Golden Lotus”. Also on board is 26-year-old alto saxophonist Immanuel Wilkins, whose recordings as a leader for Blue Note, “The 7th Hand” and “Omega”, have earned him deep respect and renown among critics and dedicated jazz enthusiasts. The “quartet… has become a group against which members of the younger generation can compare their own ideas,” suggests The New York Times. Wilkins’ presence also serves as a reminder of Barron’s enduring commitment to mentoring in jazz, as an employer of young talent and celebrated music educator. Indeed, the list of Barron’s school alumni is impressive, including Terence Blanchard, Jon Batiste, Aaron Parks, and Gerald Clayton, among countless others.

Immanuel Wilkins, whom Bayou Blue Radio listeners know well through his personal albums as well as his performances on the albums of other great artists, is no stranger. And don’t for a moment imagine that Kenny Barron’s compositions are retro; the pianist offers us one of the most “trendy” albums of all time here. If you have his previous album “The Source” in mind, “Beyond This Place” will surprise you. The artists here present were not chosen at random, and one can feel the improvisational elements that have benefited this project. Kenny Barron’s musical vision is perpetually in search of renewal; his great quality is not to get lost in novelty but always to impress us with his rich and precise playing. “Beyond This Place” begins with a quartet rendition of the standard “The Nearness of You,” highlighting the timeless kinship between Barron and Wilkins – two modernists both forward-thinking and respectful of jazz history, with impeccable technique. “Scratch” by Barron, which the composer presented as the title track of a trio recording in 1985 with Dave Holland and Daniel Humair, is a delightfully Monk-like theme attacked here with the energy of Parker/Roach. “Innocence,” a Barron composition that lent its title to his 1978 LP for Wolf Records, is an archetypal post-bop piece, with an elegant and dark theme and a slow burning tempo; later, Barron’s “Tragic Magic” is a livelier and bolder post-bop vehicle that pays homage to his piano hero Tommy Flanagan. Blake’s contribution, “Blues on Stratford Road,” is self-explanatory in the most satisfying way – a durable hard bop from a corner bar in the vein of Blue Note. (Blake is actually a Blue Note recording artist as a leader, although his dates are more decidedly contemporary.)

What’s most impressive is the marriage between a form of jazz that has become relatively “classic” and this modernity and the language that ensues. This quintet is truly exciting, full of musical propositions that are evidently the result of collective work, each member listening to and reveling in the flourishes offered by the others. One can only hope that festivals will clamor for this quintet, which for us is as “essential and indispensable” as earth, wind, and fire (and there’s no allusion here to the funk group we adore).

Thierry De Clemensat
USA correspondent – Paris-Move and ABS magazine
Editor in chief Bayou Blue Radio, Bayou Blue News

PARIS-MOVE, April 28th 2024

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