Kenny Barron, whose duets with tenor great Stan Getz rank among the greatest achievements in that format, has recorded only a handful of duo albums with bassists. One of them, his 1986 encounter with Harvie S, Now Was the Time, came out almost by accident, years after it was recorded. (It was discovered among Harvie S’ belongings and released in 2008.) A mere five years later, in time for Barron’s 70th birthday, Witchcraft arrives as a rewarding sequel.
Produced by the bassist, the album departs from its predecessor’s heavyweight jazz standards to explore a mix of songs ranging from the Brazilian classic “Rio,” to Stevie Wonder’s “Creepin’,” to the archival coup “Deep Night,” a 1920s hit for Rudy Vallee that Sonny Clark recorded on his 1958 classic, Cool Struttin’. Like seasoned dance partners, the bassist and pianist move gracefully as a pair while alternately taking the lead, the former with his resounding melodic statements and atmospheric bending and shaping of notes, the latter with his patented blend of bop-school dazzle and old-school elegance.
As he did with Charlie Haden and his old Sphere partner Buster Williams, Barron thrives in the company of a bassist with a pronounced sound. The album gains momentum as it goes, saving its best for the final three tunes: the bassist’s romantically charged, slow-building original “Until Tomorrow,” and a popping, streaming take on Duke Ellington’s antic masterpiece “Wig Wise,” capped by free-jazz passages and a relaxed romp through the title song.