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Kenny Barron

Kiyoshi Kitagawa

Jonathan Blake

Photos by Rudy Lu

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A Place for Jazz
Schenectady , NY
October 14, 2011

by Jeff Waggoner

The incomparable pianist, Kenny Barron, who has taken the history of a music and compressed it into a gem, put that gem on display October 14 at A Place for Jazz in Schenectady’s Whisperdome.

Think of it. Ray Bryant’s sister (and Kevin and Robin Eubank’s mother) helped him learn piano as a kid.  He started recording in 1961, 50 years ago, and over those 50 years has played with the Who’s Who of jazz, everyone from Philly Joe Jones, Dizzy Gillespie, Joe Henderson, and our hometown hero, Nick Brignola.

Clearly, jazz fans in the Capital District know Barron’s importance to the music.  The place was packed.

On hand with Barron was the Japanese bassist Kiyoshi Kitagawa and a bright, rising star on drums, Johnathan Blake.

Out of the box, they played the standard, “I Hear a Rhapsody,” and the group played with it like a kitten with a ball of twine. Barron has 300 horsepower under the hood, but he rarely puts the pedal to the medal.  Even when channeling the two-handed Art Tatum, he’s not breaking a sweat.

In addition to oldies like “Blue Moon” and “Softly, As in a Morning Sunrise,” the trio played several originals, including Barron’s “Phantom,” “Um Beijo,” “Cooks Bay” and, for an encore, “Calypso.”  All beautiful pieces that displayed Barron’s ability as a composer.  He wasn’t afraid to let them run with the well-loved chestnuts.  Every original was accessible, and as comfortable as a pair pre-washed jeans.

Reaching into the box of adjectives to describe Barron, one comes up with --  lyrical, elegant and smart. A poet on piano.

The bassist Kiyoshi Kitagawa lives up to his billing: rock steady rhythm and a big sound, He knows how to use the freedom of the double bass, bending notes and pushing ears.

The discovery of the night was the young drummer Johnathan Blake, the son of jazz violinist John Blake Jr. He stood right on top of the beat the whole night, keeping the sound on simmer.  While Barron himself held back, he gave Blake rein, who made the night sparkle.

Jeff Waggoner has written book, CD and concert reviews for publications such as Down Beat, Jazz Times, Blues Access and The New York Times.