Kenny Barron, one of my all-time favorite pianists, and Mark Sherman, a highly respected vibraphonist who started his own label Miles High Records in the late 90s and who has recorded with a lot of vocalists, most notably with Peggy Lee, but also with Gloria Lynne, Ann Hampton Callaway, Lena Horne, Laverne Butler, and Ruth Brown, are both professors at the Juilliard School and have recorded this new duo recording in only five hours last November.
I don’t need to tell you how important and influential Kenny is as a pianist (and also as a composer), but his very lyrical and melodic style is really second to none. Kenny has recorded a lot of duo recordings in his career and there was actually one recording with another vibraphonist: Joe Locke and Kenny recorded the amazing “But Beautiful” back in 1994. So what we get here is a conversation of the highest quality and an intimate lesson in listening to each other and exchanging ideas and harmonic textures without ever losing the basics of each composition.
There are nine more or less well-known standards here and two pieces by each musician. Kenny’s “The Question Is” (recorded for his 2000 album “Spirit Song” which featured Rufus Reid and Billy Hart among other guests) is a serene ballad which at times reminded me of some of the most brilliant duo recordings by Chick Corea and Gary Burton on ECM. “Venture Within” by Mark is a beautiful waltz (note: the two composer credits on these tracks were mixed up in the booklet) and showcases both musicians in a spiritual interplay, with mutually delicious harmonizations.
Dexter Gordon‘s “Cheesecake” probably comes closest to the music Kenny was playing in his group Sphere where they explored the music of Thelonious Monk. The longest track here with over nine minutes is a romping take on this Blue Note classic which was first recorded for Dexter’s 1962 LP “Go”. Both also tackle Charles Mingus on the brilliant interpretation of “Orange Was The Color Of Her Dress, Then Blue Silk” (first recorded by the legendary bassist for his 1963 LP “Mingus Plays Piano”). It is the story about a girl falling in love with a piano player asking him to write a song about her dress. In this interactive rapport, the tune really unfolds as a true love paean.
You also get a swinging take on the very early “Royal Garden Blues” with boppish lines and an equally brimming “Without A Song” and some eerily beautiful playing, for example on the slowed-down “Indian Summer” or on “Darn That Dream”. The more than promising start with the John Lewis composition “Afternoon In Paris” keeps the high standard until the very end. I was missing some Brazilian music here as that’s something that Kenny has been doing on his records and in his concerts over the last years. But you can’t have everything…
Kenny is in France and Denmark in July playing with his regular trio with Kiyoshi Kitagawa and Jonathan Blake. Mark Sherman and his Group will play Dizzy’s in New York in September and he’s playing with his 4tet in Lausanne and Napoli in November.Follow: