Confession: I sometimes sleep on just how deep a pianist Kenny Barron truly is. The 72-year-old master isn’t the first guy I turn to when I’m looking to be dazzled. But after last year’s duet disc with Dave Holland and the recent reissue of the 1981’s At The Piano, it’s right up front again: He’s an expert at communicating emotions. This new trio date, made with his agile working band, takes it a step farther. Barron’s also one of the most entertaining pianists in action these days.
Proof? “Bud-Like,” which was part of that Xanadu solo date mentioned above (recently reissued by Elemental). It’s a blast of right hand gusto that, while conflating the bustle of Mr. Powell’s “Dance of the Infidels” and “Un Poco Loco,” and refining itself with the polish of “Parisian Thoroughfare,” reveals the strengths of a veteran improviser who can bring grace to a stormy melody. As Barron hurtles across the keyboard, he defines control. Something similar happens in “Lunacy,” whose hard-driving animation is bolstered by the sense of daring that bassist Kiyoshi Kitagawa and drummer Johnathan Blake bring to the table.
As Book of Intuition spills forward, each new turn seems sage. There are catchy themes holding the center of “Cook’s Bay” and “Dream,” and lessons on the art of nuanced interplay in “Prayer” and “In The Slow Lane.” Subtlety is the diction of true masters, and while Barron’s right-hand romps are legend, his expertise at shading is obvious. From the wisp of a samba to the grit of the blues, he’s all about particulars.
Don’t forget his sage scrutiny of Monk. This time round it’s a splashy “Shuffle Boil” with contoured edges, and a solo “Light Blue” that occasionally darts toward Tatum. Each essays Barron’s exquisite touch, and together they sit at the center of a wisely crafted and steadily shifting program that illustrates how engaging mainstream jazz can be right now.