With Concentric Circles, jazz legend Kenny Barron not only presents his fantastic new quintet, but also some new original compositions in their first recording. The multi-Grammy nominee introduces a new edition of the Kenny Barron Quintet with this release, featuring saxophonist Dayna Stephens, trumpeter Mike Rodriguez, bassist Kiyoshi Kitagawa, and drummer Johnathan Blake. This sublime 11-song release marks both Barron's 75th birthday as well as 50 years since his debut recording alongside trumpeter Jimmy Owens.
ArkivJazz: Kenny, tell me about your new Quintet, I know you’ve worked with some of these cats for a while. This band really has some great momentum. How did you get this band together?
Kenny Barron: I’ve worked with them off and on but it’s the first time recording with this quintet. The rhythm section (bassist Kiyoshi Kitagawa and drummer Johnathan Blake) has been with me for a while…they’re part of my trio. I met Dayna Stephens when I did a workshop at Stanford University. He was part of the workshop as a student, so this was maybe ten years ago. When he finally moved to New York, I was able to work with him more often. As for Mike Rodriguez, I happened to hear him at the Jazz Standard as part of the Rodriguez Brothers. He’s a great trumpet player, has a beautiful sound, and can sight read anything. He really knows how to negotiate changes and plays some interesting stuff. So, I’m very happy with the band.
AJ: It’s a well-tuned machine, that can change motions and direction very smoothly. Your take on Monk’s “Reflections” is gorgeous. It’s like a little gift at the end of a wonderful record.
KB: Yeah, that’s a beautiful song, I like that piece.
AJ: Another cover is Lenny White’s “L’s Bop”. That’s a great tune I don’t think enough people do.
KB: “L’s Bop,” yeah, right. That’s not an easy song to play.
AJ: Right, it has some interesting structural changes.
KB: Yeah, and trying to play that melody on the piano is a real finger buster. But, it’s really fun to play and is a nice piece.
AJ: In contrast to that, “In the Dark” is just a gorgeous piece and really sets up the rest of the record.
KB: Yeah, that’s a song I actually wrote for a film soundtrack. Unfortunately, they didn’t use the music I wrote, but I think the film went straight to video. It was called Another Harvest Moon, starring Ernest Borgnine and Doris Roberts.
AJ: It really sits nicely in the middle of the disc. Especially after “Von Hangman.”
KB: Yes, “Von Hangman” is actually a phrase that came from back when I played with trumpeter Eddie Henderson quite a few years ago. Whenever there was a difficult passage or something that was tricky to execute on the trumpet, Eddie would say, “Ahhh, Von Hangman.”
AJ: Well, it’s a fabulous tune. Also, you certainly chose a great Brazilian tune in “Aquele Frevo Axé.”
KB: You know, a recording of that song is on my iPod. I always keep it on shuffle and kept hearing it. It kept coming up, and I thought it was a pretty song and you know, that I’d like to play it. So, I transcribed it and we’ve been playing it ever since.
AJ: It really works on the CD for sure. You also have “A Short Journey,” which sounds Coltrane-esque…
KB: Well, that one’s kind of ad-libbed…it’s something that I wrote at the studio. I just wanted something that was kind of loose and would create a certain atmosphere.
AJ: Well, to just knock that off, I have my hat off to you. Tell me about “Blue Waters.” It’s kind of a slow drag with a beautiful piano break…
KB: Yeah, it’s kind of a 6/8 feeling. I have a Clavinova that I use for writing and when I wrote it, I used the electric piano sound. I actually thought about recording electric piano on it, because it seemed to fit the feeling of the piece, but I decided against it. I like the end result, the way it feels and moves, so it was something I was really happy with. I’m very happy with this record and with the way the band sounds.
AJ: One last tune to bring up is the title piece “Concentric Circles.” The ¾ beat really keeps it spinning…
KB: Yeah, it’s a waltz. I can’t tell you what inspired it. It’s very difficult for me to just say, ok it’s 5:00, time to write music. That just doesn’t work for me. I like to just sit at the piano and see what comes out. Sometimes a lot comes out, sometimes nothing much. Then, sometimes you don’t get everything all at once. You might get a melody or a chordal passage that will lead you to something else. “Concentric Circles” was one that came out that way.
AJ: Tell me about your upcoming dates. You guys are playing this week at the Jazz Standard?
KB: Yeah, we’re at the Standard through Sunday the 6th, then on May 12th we have a concert in Detroit and the Detroit Symphony Hall. Later this summer, we have a short European tour lined up, including a date at the San Sebastian Jazz Festival.