BY MICHAEL TOLAND
Pianist Kenny Barron’s career stretches back to 1961, when he first recorded with his older brother Bill. Since then the Philadelphia native has built not only a massive catalog of his own, but logged appearances with Dizzy Gillespie, Stan Getz, Joe Henderson, Freddie Hubbard, Bobby Hutcherson, Jimmy Heath, Booker Ervin and the proverbial many, many more. Somehow amongst all this activity he’s also managed a career as an instructor at Rutgers University and Juilliard School of Music. In other words, Barron has more creds than most of us have had hot dinners.
Which means that, at age 75, he’s got nothing to prove. That doesn’t mean Concentric Circles, his latest album and first with his new Quintet, is a lackadaisical effort. Far from it – Barron’s writing, playing and leadership are as sharp as ever. He frequently indulges his love of Latin American sonics, covering Caetano Veloso’s “Aquele Frevo Axe” and romping through the slinky “Baile,” as well as subtly incorporating Afro-Cuban rhythms into the otherwise straight bop of “DPW.” The pianist’s sensual touch with ballads is on full display on the lush, gorgeous “A Short Journey” and the peaceful “In the Dark.” Putting the spotlight on his band, especially trumpeter Mike Rodriguez, “Blue Waters,” “Von Hangman” and Lenny White’s “L’s Bop” present timeless post-bop sounds that would be as at home in 1958 as in 2018. The Quintet also gets funky on the delightfully frisky “I’m Just Sayin’.” The group hits a remarkable peak with the title track, a melodic, atmospheric epic framing its leader’s fingerwork in the kind of tight ensemble playing that should be cited in textbooks. Barron ends the LP alone with a cover of Thelonious Monk’s “Reflections,” a nimble tribute to one of his primary inspirations.
Barron owes no one anything, instead choosing to meet his own high standards of craft and heart. Neither experimental nor even particularly boundary-pushing, Concentric Circles instead showcases a master musician still on top of his game making music purely for the love of it.
DOWNLOAD: “Concentric Circles,” “Baile,” “I’m Just Sayin’”