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Kenny Barron: The Traveler

Mark F. Turner By

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It would be quite a feat to have traveled in Kenny Barron's shoes. A venerable pianist whose career has spanned more than fifty years of performances with a host of greats—Lee Morgan, Dizzy Gillespie, Freddie Hubbard, Yusef Lateef, Charlie Rouse and many others. His music has traveled across the paths of blues, bop, modern, and other terrains. Whether working with vocalists such as jazz diva, Abbey Lincoln or taking Brazilian music excursions in Canta Brasil (Sunnyside Records, 2002), Barron has covered a lot of ground and done so impressively.

The Traveler finds Barron once again on the move—a colorful palette of ten tracks with excellent sounds—featuring a new rhythm section (Japanese bassist Kiyoshi Kitagawa and Cuban drummer Francisco Mela) and some very special guests. From the start of the title track, Barron's still got the touch—panache, grace, fire, and empathy. The result is a perfect portrait of his repertoire and depth.

The smooth soprano sax of Steve Wilson is present on thee selections delineated by quick and supple angularities. On "Speed Trap" he joins Barron's core group on a bopping swing-time caper, held tautly by Kitagawa's impeccable quick tempo bass-walk.

Guitarist Lionel Loueké, who is becoming increasingly visible these days, appears on three selections starting with "Duet," a twisting improvisation duo-piece. His acoustic strings chase and interweave with Barron's exploring keys.

Barron's empathetic touch also glows warmly with fine singers—Ann Hampton Callaway ("Clouds") and Grady Tate ("Um Beijo")—delivering polished yet earthy lyrics imbued with passionate prose. "Phantoms" is another mesmerizing opening with Mela's chants and percussion, Loueké's unique guitarisms, and dark sensual singing by rising vocalist Gretchen Parlato, as Barron comps and delivers a superb free solo.

Added to the mix is the jubilant "Calypso" and an introspective and telling solo piano rendition of Eubie Blake's "Memories of You" to close this fine recording by one of jazz's most respected pianists.

Track Listing: The Traveler; Clouds; Speed Trap; Um Beijo; The First Year; Illusion; Duet; Phantoms; Calypso; Memories Of You.

Personnel: Kenny Barron: piano; Kiyoshi Kitagawa: bass; Francisco Mela: drums; Steve Wilson: soprano sax (1, 3, 6); Lionel Loueké: guitar (7, 8, 9); Grady Tate: vocals (4); Ann Hampton Callaway: vocals (2); Gretchen Parlato: vocals (8).

Title: The Traveler | Year Released: 2008 | Record Label: Sunnyside Records

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