Paris Jazz Diary: Pianists Kenny Barron, Harold Mabern, Bill Charlap


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Paris Jazz Diary 2015: Pianists Kenny Barron, Harold Mabern, Bill Charlap
Duc des Lombards, Sunside-Sunset Jazz Clubs
Paris, France
July 3, July 4, July 14, 2015

New York City pianists Kenny Barron, Harold Mabern and Bill Charlap led trios in three separate concerts as part of a pair of annual summer-season jazz series in Paris.

Barron was as elegant as always, filling Duc des Lombards with his graceful strength and polished style. Intensity was the byword for both sold-out sets, evident early in his joyous interpretation of Thelonious Monk's "Shuffle Boil." This early set had a satisfying balance of tempos as Barron featured several originals, including the lilting "New Samba" and an energized "Calypso," as well as the more tranquil mood of "In the Slow Lane."

A super-speed tempo for "New York Attitude" showcased Barron's renowned agility and intricate invention, while his later interpretation of Charlie Haden's "Nightfall" was serenely pensive. The 72-year-old master pianist provided generous solo space for his tour colleagues, astounding bassist Kiyoshi Kitagawa and dazzling drummer Johnathan Blake, each tailor-made for Barron's stylish sounds. The concert was part of the club's fifth annual "Nous N'Irons Pas a New York" ("We're not going to New York") festival that brought that city's jazz stars to Paris nightly from June 29-July 25.

Mabern, at 79 the senior of these keyboard icons, delivered his fiery style of hard bop at Sunside-Sunset. He was powerfully inventive on "Alone Together," combining angular changes and quotes from standards that included three references to the familiar Ahmad Jamal treatment of "Poinciana" plus a cheerful insert from "Polka Dots and Moonbeams." Although "My Favorite Things" is considered a ballad by most, Mabern delivered it strongly with prodigious left hand shifts that conveyed a soulful feel. For this concert of the club's annual two-month-long American Jazz Festiv'Halles, Mabern performed with dynamic American drummer Joe Farnsworth, who created polyrhythmic ferocity, underscored by the luminous sound of Parisian bassist Fabien Marcos.

For his third chart, Mabern challenged the audience to identify five of his fellow Pennsylvania jazz stars, rapidly reciting "Bobby, Benny, Jimmy, Lee 'n' Bu." My mental list was Bobby Timmons, Benny Golson, Jimmy Heath, Lee Morgan and Art Blakey (whose adopted African name was "Buhaina"). When no one spoke up at the end of the chart, I called out those names, missing just one; right state, wrong musician. It was Jymie Merritt, bassist with Blakey's Jazz Messengers from 1958-62. Mabern's newest album Afro Blue (Smoke Session Records, 2015) includes his tribute with that title, the CD also featuring eight guest artists including five vocalists, accompanied by Eric Alexander on tenor saxophone, John Webber on bass and Farnsworth on drums.

Charlap's trio opened the first of his two-night booking at Duc des Lombards with the George Wallington compelling composition, "Godchild," which was part of the 1957 Miles Davis seminal album Birth of the Cool, the pianist closing his interpretation with a quote from the French national anthem, "La Marseillaise."

As further musical salutes to the French and Bastille Day being on his opening night, Charlap performed three crowd-pleasers, the first a delicately pensive delivery of Michel Legrand's "What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?" with bassist Peter Washington accenting with single-chime notes. A second French reference was the trio's beautiful exposition of "Bon Ami" by guitarist Jim Hall. Then Charlap soloed inventively on Jerome Kern's nostalgic "The Last Time I Saw Paris."

Charlap's classic swing style was perfect for Duke Ellington's "Sophisticated Lady," abetted by throaty accents from bassist Washington. A lighter mood was expressed on Harold Arlen's "A Sleepin' Bee" for the closing selection. The trio had barely left the stage when the audience began European-style unison clapping for an encore, bringing back Charlap to solo artfully on "If I Loved You."

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