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One Night in NYC - A Long Ways From The 'Midnight Cowboy' Era

The NYC jazz club/restaurant Iridium used to be located in the upper west side, near Lincoln Center now, it’s located near the heart of the bustling Times Square area. (For the benefit of those not familiar, the streets are lousy with people virtually ‘round the clock.) It’s at the bottom of a stairway, and has two levels of tables it sort-of reminded me of the old TV Show Playboy After Dark, where Hef would serve as host to a variety of talents. The menu consists of - well, there’s no way around it- expensive cuisine but I got a Natural High off of the lobster & pasta dish. It looks to hold perhaps 100 people, give-or-take, and that chilly Wednesday night jazz fans were out in full force.

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).

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Kenny Barron Trio
  • Concert Date: 12/19/2001
  • Subtitle: Kenny Barron's Trio - Live @ The Iridium, New York City
  • Venue: Iridium Jazz Club
  • City State Country: New York, NY, USA
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