Once upon a time I though I didn’t like pianist Kenny Barron’s sound. While still a teen in the 70s, I heard him on a Booker Ervin Blue Note session maybe he was having an off day, or you could blame it on my youth. (I was and still am a rock & roll fan that had an insatiable desire for jazz; I got into jazz via the "free" and "fusion" movements and worked my way backward.) Barron probably wasn’t "extreme" enough for me what-ever. Yet here I am, in store for one of the Gigs of 2001. This bear of a man took the Iridium stage with a naturally regal yet not imposing presence, accompanied by bassist Ray Drummond and longtime Thelonius Monk drummer Ben Riley. They were SO GOOD I wound up cursing the teenage me and swearing in my heart allegiance to Mr. Barron’s ace pianism. Above all, he is a swinging, MELODIC player, out of the mainstream Tommy Flanagan/Hank Jones school with more than a touch of Monk. Though the set consisted of done-to-death standards, his treatments were inviting, graceful and songlike. At the risk of sounding corny, Barron invests his sound with a great deal of love and gentle wit, and the near-packed house responded accordingly.
Not to slight the rest of the band: mainstream bassist Drummond had an aggressive, almost guitar-like attack to his instrument, yet never came off as too busy or overdone. Ben Riley, who that night bore a striking resemblance to the James Bond movie villain Dr. No, was Monk on the drums he kept the beat and the swing along with The Big D but also added some crackling, subtle, humorous asides ‘n’ fills a la Thelonious. This Trio swung their collective asses off - and it’s worth doing without (pack your lunch 3 days a week) so you could come to NYC and see them next time they play (if they don’t come to your town first).