At this point, the arrival of any recording from the venerable Kenny Barron is cause for celebration. But The Source merits even more attention and recognition than the norm in that category. The NEA Jazz Master’s first solo album in more than 40 years, it offers a remarkably clear example of his estimable skills as an interpreter and pianist par excellence.
Working his way through his own “What If” for starters, Barron erects and dissects like nobody’s business. He uses a scuttling torrent as a setup for a display of brilliance surrounding independence and interdependence. An insistent left hand figure plays against a searching right, and the concepts of self-support and subversion are perfectly balanced in the process. Later, toward album’s end, Barron pulls three additional winners from his portfolio. There’s “Dolores Street, SF,” gifted with clear patience and benefitting from pensive design strategies; the oft-performed “Sunshower,” a Latin-leaning gem that’s as alluring as ever in this form(at); and a rhythmically invigorating “Phantoms,” where fingers find the pulse of the moment and never let go.
Standards constitute the remainder of the recording, placing the weight of one genuine artist’s history against the music’s own. Barron deals with the twined legacy of Billy Strayhorn and Duke Ellington on an “Isfahan” that works well at a comfortably elevated tempo and a “Day Dream” that offers pure reverie and fixed-time soul searching. He looks at two Thelonious Monk numbers, reveling in the act of invention during “Teo” and taking a propulsive and relatively percussive flight across the framework of “Well You Needn’t.” And he uses the time-tested “I’m Confessin’” as a charming centerpiece for the entire production. Drawing from a deep wellspring of creativity throughout, Kenny Barron leaves no doubt as to his stature as one of the greatest.