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Kenny Barron/Regina Carter: Freefall

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Barron, the veteran pianist, and Carter, the young violinist, range through nearly an hour and 10 minutes of duo playing that exults in the swing-era felicities of Johnny Hodges’ “Squatty Roo,” the unbounded invention of the title tune and an expanse of musical territory in between. They explore the not-so-plain-old B-flat blues in Thelonious Monk’s “Misterioso” and the mysterious C-minor blues of Wayne Shorter’s “Footprints.” They romp through Barron’s fiesta of fourth intervals called “What If,” working in a section of free improvisation that sounds like something by Bartok. They give loving attention to Carter’s ballad “Shades of Gray” (a tribute to Wardell, her fellow Detroiter, perhaps?) and Barron’s “Phantoms,” with its G-minor gypsy ache. They do a version of Sting’s “Fragile” with passion and dynamic feeling that should make its composer happy. The CD begins with a romp through “Softly as in a Morning Sunrise” (lots of minor tunes here) and ends with the tenderness of Barron’s “A Flower,” a slow piece with a melody that could have been written by Edward MacDowell.

We are accustomed to Barron’s command of his instrument, his musicianship and creativity. In his case, familiarity breeds anticipation of further surprises, and his playing here is full of them. Carter seemed to appear on the national music scene a couple of years ago fully developed. She may be a new phenomenon to most listeners, but the tonal perfection, inventiveness and swing of her playing make her one of the few jazz masters of her demanding instrument. The cohesion and joy of this duo’s music-making is consistent from beginning to end.

Freefall is as close to flawless as any album I have heard this year.