The Traveler is one of those rare CDs where everything falls into place and that just doesn't happen by accident. The compositions, mostly Barron originals, are creative and accessible. The playlist order - and even the titles - allow the listener to travel through many moods and yet there's an overall feeling of calm and peace.
The foundation is Barron's trio, including bassist Kiyoshi Kitigawa and Francisco Mela on drums. They can be explosive as evidenced by the edgy and complex "Speed Trap" where Barron and guest Steve Wilson on soprano create fiery solos over a dynamic pulse laid down by the bass and drums. Wilson also demonstrates a warm and lyrical sound on the haunting" Illusion" and the lively and Latin title tune. The trio extends the Latin mood with Alex Nguyen's relaxed bossa nova, "The First Year."
There are three remarkable vocalists on the disc. On "Clouds," Ann Hampton Calloway will inspire those of you in warmer climes to stretch out on the grass and just watch them go by while Grady Tate, retired from drumming, is quietly sensitive on " Um Beijo." Gretchen Palato displays her sensuous voice on the Brazilian-flavored "Phantoms," an impressive collaboration between vocalist and musicians, now including the West African guitarist Lionel Loueké. Louecké and the Barron trio then explore all the musical possibilities - and the joy - of "Calypso."
" Duet" is my favorite. Just Barron and Loueké. It's pure and free improvisation and the two are close as pages in a book. In a bow to Monk, Barron ends the set with an eloquent solo version of "Memories so You."
I plan to play "The Traveler" again and again - and again. It's wonderful.