Let’s amble back to the simple but productive days of piano jazz before every niche of playing style created a new genre, before the words genius and nuance were overused to the point of covetousness. To hear Kenny at the head of tracks like ‘Song for Manfredo’ by Lili Fest renews my roving eye back to instrumental jazz. Experimental stuff is fine, but there’s a reason mainstream is called what it is. It speaks clearly, concisely, and it is never afraid of the spooky and compelling term POP.
Neither is Kenny and crew, working their way thru 70 minutes and 11 tracks of the sort of combo that excites the soul and that part of the brain you tend to put away at night. ‘Epistrophy’ from Thelonious Monk is not thinking man’s jazz. Once Stefon Harris’ vibes getcha, you are into the primal bones that move contrary to the skin, but in a distinctly pleasurable, natural way.
However, as good as the several guests are, they aren’t really Necessary. Kenny’s trio manages to draw its own magic out with unforced reliance, counting on each other with nary a somber or self-conscious patch (‘Goodbye’ sees to that). The wordless, long tracks begin to stack up like so many deep cuts that often bleed The Good Times. If this isn’t a necessarily Classic cd, it is certainly a Good Ol’ Boy you can take off the shelf, plug in, and know that anytime you want, you can feel glistening waves of emotional candy washing you clean with soap.
That’s not to say that the guests are in any way intrusive. In fact, they bring a bright light to the tracks they dance in. Consider the Wallace Roney trumpet of ‘With Prestige,’ and tell me things would be better if the lips weren’t there. They wouldn’t! Though Kenny’s mean solo, followed swiftly by deBriano’s ditto bass time, followed yet again by the grand stereo beat of Tany Jefferson, rounds out the track so well that squares need not apply. And of course Roney comes back to wrap the whole thing up like the tight package it is.
The end song is from a composer that needs to be played more: Oscar Levant. ‘Blame It On My Youth’ is a trifle melancholy to leave with, nevertheless the soft muted trumpet and the slowly dripping keys make this one a memorable parting.
A release worthy of your time and troubles.
Track Listing: 1. Bags Groove 2. Song for Manfredo 3. Epistrophy 4. Children's Games 5. Mirage 6. We Will Meet Again 7. Bossa Blues No. 2 8. Stairway to the Stars 9. With Prestige 10. Goodbye 11. Blame It On My Youth
Personnel: Kenny Drew Jr. - piano Santi deBriano - bass Tany Jefferson - drums Wallace Roney - trumpet (tracks 5, 9-11) Stefon Harris - vibes (tracks 1, 3, 8)