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Kenny Barron: At the Piano

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Launched in 1975 by Don Schlitten, Xanadu Records released more than 100 LPs through 1986, including more than 40 reissues of archival material from the ’40s and ’50s. The high quality of the releases likely owed to Schlitten’s intimate involvement with the label, as he often “produced and directed” sessions, designed covers and wrote liner notes. These three notable releases, including one Schlitten produced for the Muse label, are among 25 gems being reissued under the Xanadu Master Edition banner.

At the Piano, Kenny Barron’s debut solo album, recorded in 1981 on a nine-foot Steinway in the same New York studio that was home to high-end classical players, offers an up-close snapshot of the virtuosity, broadly encompassing style and wide-ranging repertoire that would come to define his storied career. He nails the spirit of Monk with a suitably moody “Misterioso” and a playful “Rhythm-a-Ning,” and offers his first recording of Strayhorn’s gorgeous “The Star-Crossed Lovers.” Also here from Barron’s pen is the brisk, Powell-toasting “Bud-Like,” the inviting “Calypso” and the pretty, relaxed “Enchanted Flower”; an arguably definitive version of “Body and Soul”; and the downhome “Wazuri Blues.”

In 1974 Schlitten produced a recording by L.A.-based, Mississippi-born tenorman Teddy Edwards, for the Muse label. For the session, Schlitten and Edwards recruited Tonight Show trumpeter Conte Candoli, pianist Dolo Coker, bassist Ray Brown, drummer Frank Butler and percussionist Jerry Steinholz. Feelin’s is informed by a decidedly bluesy approach, from the leader’s phrasing and big, sometimes honking sound to the choice of material. Opener “Bear Tracks,” built on Edwards’ sometime raunchy tone and a modified-shuffle beat, and inspired by a pianist he had encountered at a Jackson juke joint, is followed by the ballad “April Love,” bolstered by a mellow tenor-trumpet unison melody. A call-and-response figure cues “Eleven Twenty Three,” and south-of-the-border themes and rhythms spice “The Blue Sombrero.” Brown contributes “Ritta Ditta Blues,” bowing the tricky head in unison with Edwards, and the group turns in a soulful “Georgia on My Mind.”

Fusion fans who knew Joe Farrell through his invigorating flute work with Return to Forever and the Chicago native’s own popular Moon Germs album may have been surprised to encounter his robust hard-bop tenor playing, honed with the likes of Elvin Jones, the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra and Jaki Byard. That sound, known to closer observers of the jazz scene, owed in part to the tradition embodied by Windy City reedmen Ira Sullivan and Johnny Griffin, both of whom Farrell heard in his hometown.

For Skate Board Park, his ninth album as a leader, recorded in Los Angeles and released in 1979, Farrell is joined by Chick Corea, regular bandmate Bob Magnusson on upright bass and drummer Larance Marable. The title track, inspired by Farrell’s observations of SoCal skateboarders, gets its kicks from a quirky, zig-zagging melody, with stop-time breaks the initial run through and the first of the leader’s several gritty, wide-open improvisations.

Two other Farrell originals are included. The sprawling, breezy “Cliché Romance” has Farrell injecting a quick quote of Miles’ “Four” and Magnusson offering a melodic solo turn, and closer “Bara-Bara” showcases Corea’s playing on Fender Rhodes. Corea’s “High Wire-‘The Aerialist'” is a less-fussy version of the color-shifting swinger later played by Corea on Echoes of an Era, while Farrell’s most intense playing arrives on Kurt Weill’s “Speak Low.” He turns smoky and sultry, in the Ben Webster fashion, on the standard “You Go to My Head.” Want to understand the significance of the tenor work of Farrell, who died 30 years ago at age 48? This album’s a good place to start.

Originally Published