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The Kenny Barron Quartet, Featuring Stefon Harris, Packs the Jazz Standard
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The Kenny Barron Quartet, Featuring Stefon Harris, Packs the Jazz Standard

- Jazz and Cabaret Corner

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Kenny Barron Quartet

Featuring Stefon Harris

Kenny Barron on Piano
Stefon Harris on Vibes
Kiyoshi Kitigawa on Bass
Johnathan Blake on Drums

Jazz Standard
116 East 27th Street, NYC

Press: April Thibeault

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
July 31, 2014

“Softly As In a Morning Sunrise” (Romberg/Hammerstein II)
“Phantoms” (K. Barron)
“Song for Abdullah” (K. Barron)
“Hey It’s Me You’re Talking To” (V. Lewis)
“Shuffle Boil” (T. Monk)
“Medley of Tunes” (D. Ellington/B. Strayhorn)
“Calypso” (K. Barron)
“Epilogue” (S. Harris)
“Well, You Needn’t” (T. Monk)

Jazz Standard was packed for opening night of the Kenny Barron Quartet. From the first set vantage point, sitting at rear side, I absorbed the ambiance and music, choosing to take minimal notes. I could see the fantastic Stefon Harris on vibes, sometimes raising two vibe mallets in each hand, sometimes one. I noticed he had mallets in pink, blue, and beige, obviously for different tonalities. Kenny Barron kept referring to himself as the elder of the group, but this man is certainly filled with the stage persona of youthful vigor. Mr. Barron spoke adoringly of Abdullah Ibrahim, when he introduced his “Song for Abdullah”. And, when he opened “Phantoms”, the club was still, as mellow, exotic tones ensued. Drummer, Victor Lewis’ “Hey It’s Me You’re Talking To” had a bring-down-the-house solo for tonight’s drummer, Johnathan Blake, who seized the spotlight with inspired cacophony. I had arrived during “Softly As In a Morning Sunrise”, a gorgeous, melodic tune by Romberg and Hammerstein. This club is precisely punctual.

For the second set, I moved closer, and, again, the club was packed, a tribute to this quartet. However, my photos, from within the crowd, were hit and miss, mostly miss. Thelonius Monk’s “Shuffle Boil” opened this set, with piano and vibes taking the theme, with contrasting rhythms and harmonies. In fact, an intertwining theme evolved. Stefon Harris was dancing and singing with his vibes, throughout the set, in an impassioned, kinetic performance. His vibe mallets had shifted here to sharper tones. Kenny Barron took a rambunctious riff with trills and racing chords. Mr. Barron’s soft piano medley followed, as the standing musicians took a break. Duke Ellington - Billy Strayhorn tunes were combined and played seamlessly for a romantic interlude.

For contrast, a tropical number, Mr. Barron’s “Calypso” followed, which the composer told us was composed as an homage to his early years in Brooklyn and lower Manhattan, when street bands were popular. Mr. Harris’ vibes swayed in luscious rhythmic phrases, while Kenny Barron took a tuneful journey across the keys. The moment was all south-of-the-border, and, it was immediately apparent that this set was fully new, not one piece repeated. “Calypso” is danceable, sing-able, and festive. Yet, it had sophistication, even as Stefon Harris went wild, followed by Johnathan Blake in his own party fever.

Stefon Harris’ “Epilogue”, a tribute to the late vibraphonist, Milt Jackson, was led by Kenny Barron in a lengthy, lyrical theme, melancholy and occasionally atonal. Mr. Harris’ vibes came in with a midnight, reflective sound. The tones were rich, and the vibes literally vibrated endlessly. Thelonius Monk’s “Well, You Needn’t” was a perfect finale, a musical whirlwind, with splendid drums, piano, and vibes. At this point, I should mention Kiyoshi Kitigawa, whose bass was fluently merged within each piece, rhythmically supportive, and fully resonant. In this final piece, he was equally exuberant as his colleagues, and, finally, he had his own showcased solo. Then bass and vibes led piano and drums, with each musician showing off his virtuosity. The piece ends with meandering notes, randomly appearing from instrument to instrument, with piano and vibes joining for a quasi-organ timbre. Echoing random notes ensue, before the music picks up a final flourish. Kudos to all.

Kenny Barron on Piano
Kiyoshi Kitigawa on Bass
Stefon Harris on Vibes
Courtesy of Roberta Zlokower

Kenny Barron on Piano
Kiyoshi Kitigawa on Bass
Johnathan Blake on Drums
Courtesy of Roberta Zlokower

Kiyoshi Kitigawa on Bass
Stefon Harris on Vibes
Johnathan Blake on Drums
Courtesy of Roberta Zlokower

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at