Wanton Spirit

Kenny Barron

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Wanton Spirit Review

by Lee Bloom

Kenny Barron began to impact the jazz scene in 1961, gigging briefly with reedman Yusef Lateef. He then spent nearly five years with Dizzy Gillespie's group before working with Freddie Hubbard and later rejoining Lateef. He is generally considered a great consolidator rather than an innovator, and his reputation as a world-class mainstream player has grown slowly but steadily over the years. Wanton Spirit further establishes him as a leader and teams him with bebop legend Roy Haynes on drums and Charlie Haden on bass. The early influences of Tatum, Powell, Monk, plus the melodic lines of Tommy Flanagan, the pentatonic harmony of McCoy Tyner, and the rhythmic fluidity of Herbie Hancock have all been thoroughly absorbed by Barron. Dizzy Gillespie's triumphal anthem "BeBop" is not taken at its traditionally frantic tempo; instead its components are decelerated and deconstructed -- revealing in its melody and harmony a hauntingly unstable edge. Barron gives us lyrical ballad interpretations of Tom Harrell's beautiful "Sail Away," Strayhorn's "Passion Flower," and Victor Lewis' "Loss of a Moment." His solo piano rendition of Ellington's "Melancholia" is gorgeous. This talented pianist's humility is evident in his choice of the title track, a composition penned by his student Earl McDonald. As a whole, Wanton Spirit is meticulously recorded, although the studio separation, coupled with digital recording and editing, can make the session sound almost too pristine -- lacking the warmth of a live performance. And though his work is masterful, Barron's playing sometimes frustrates critics since his own personal style is not always simply and readily identifiable. If one listens deeply, though, there is much to savor.

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