Kenny Barron Trio with George Mraz, Lewis Nash
By Patricia Myers
Pianist Kenny Barron brought his Platinum Trio with bassist George Mraz and drummer Lewis Nash to perform two classy concerts as part of the third anniversary celebration of The Nash, a jazz venue named for the Phoenix-born musician.
This trio, formed in 2013 at the North Sea Jazz Festival in The Netherlands, was a high-level experience of straight-ahead jazz and bebop, sparked by exciting interaction and brilliant solos.
The simplicity of “I Hear a Rhapsody” was elevated by Barron’s inventively angular shifts along the full range of the keyboard. His classically infused original, “Phantoms,” was enhanced by minor-key shifts against Mraz’s mellow warmth. Later in the set, Barron’s admiration of pianist-composer Thelonious Monk was illuminated by rivulets of sound on “Well You Needn’t,” as Nash employed his exceptional cymbals style.
The eternally exquisite “Beautiful Love” was a perfect vehicle for Barron’s virtuosity and the trio’s synchronicity, the sideman playing solidly in the pocket. That composition, written in 1931 by Victor Young, was introduced as a waltz in ballroom scene of the 1932 film “The Mummy” starring Boris Karloff, but became a diamond standard of the ballad form after it was performed in 4/4 time by pianist Bill Evans.
Near the end of the set, Barron performed a solo medley, connecting four beautiful melodies by Duke Ellington and/or Billy Strayhorn. Each one – “Lotus Blossom,” “A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing,” “Melancholia” and “Star-crossed Lovers” — was a gorgeous reinterpretation of those memorable melodies via Barron’s polished command of the keys, at first subdued, then lithely injected with innovative elements.
This opening set obviously was pleasing to that audience, but the second set for a different group of listeners had higher energy and elevated explorations of several familiar compositions. Billie Holiday’s hit, “For Heaven’s Sake,” was infused with new essence as an instrumental, especially Nash’s artistry in brushes. Dizzy Gillespie’s “Bebop” was sparked by Barron’s progressions of intentional dissonance, Mraz playing as smooth as silk despite the blistering tempo, Nash underscoring and propelling inventively throughout.
“All Blues” was the most memorable chart of the night, the trio in perfect accord and balance. Barron’s minor chords refreshed the blues mode, Mraz executing long leaps along the neck of his acoustic bass, Nash alternating sticks and brushes to augment the melody package. It must be noted here that Mraz and Nash played and recorded together with Tommy Flanagan for many years, while Barron and Mraz were in the Stan Getz Quartet in the late 1980s, that history partially responsible for the seamless synergy of this evening.
“What Is This Thing Called Love?” was stretched to the max, a stunning hard-swinging solo by Mraz followed by a superb segment of fours between piano and drums. The pianist’s approach to “I Thought About You” was lyrical, flowing sequences to create what has long been identified the Kenny Barron sound.
Another Monk standard, “I Mean You,” featured octave keyboard leaps and the composer’s delicious trademark dissonance, Mraz employing more tempo fragmentation while Nash anchored it with well-placed cymbal bursts. Hank Mobley’s infectious “This I Dig of You” was the evening’s perfect closing selection, swinging mightily in that saxophonist’s memorable post-bop tradition. This trio was, indeed, a platinum coalition, led by the esteemed NEA Jazz Master’s elegant piano style.