When the Kenny Barron Trio began its Friday, April 15, show at the Scripps Research Institute with Dizzy Gillespie’s “Bebop,” one couldn’t help but marvel at the inherent audacity in such a selection. Barron, a supremely tasteful pianist, seemingly threw caution to the wind, opting instead to glide on the irresistible ride cymbal pings of drummer Johnathan Blake and the pliant pulse of bassist Kiyoshi Kitagawa, both of whom performed beautifully in support of the leader’s full spectrum of ideas.
There was a condensed piano history course on display with “Magic Dance,” which toggled between a stride and a gentle Latin sway, which Barron peppered with melodic effusion. Blake is a monster percussionist who never seems to break a sweat, regardless of tempo or intensity.
Everything distilled into pure beauty on the Charlie Haden ballad “Nightfall,” aided by the groaning whole notes of Kitagawa, whose own solo spoke of deep heartache, while Blake kept the pensive motion alive with detailed brush strokes.
Monk’s “Shuffle Boil” signaled another highlight, from the solo piano intro to the wicked, off-centered ostinato and the amazing, explosive drum narrative of Blake, who appeared as relaxed as a guy watering his lawn from an easy-chair.
Blake and Kitagawa exited the stage while Barron dug deep into the catalog of Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn, earning the rapt attention of the sold-out house with medley that began with “Easy Chair” before dissolving into “Lotus Blossom,” “Melancholy” and “Star-Crossed Lovers,” maintaining a sense of reverie throughout.
The evening reached its zenith on the original “Bud-Like,” careening from a lock-tight Latin vamp to a full-blown swing where his fingers seemed to fly off the keys, all while Kitagawa’s furious walk spurred Blake into a solo that roused the entire house.
It was another superlative night of mainstream mastery from the folks at Athenaeum Jazz.