JazzReview.Com: I suppose that I could start this review with the bromide that, like fine wine, some things are worth waiting for. Well, as a total Kenny Barron fanatic, I can say that, yes, Live At Bradley’s is well worth waiting for, to say the least. The CD was recorded live at the legendary Greenwich Village club over 4 nights in 1996. Fortunately for us, recording engineer Jim Anderson happened to have set up his equipment that night. Now, we can appreciate what the relatively small audience in the relatively small club heard that night. But just as important, the recording serves as a reminder of some of the great Bradley sessions, now that the club is defunct. More’s the pity. Most of the sessions were not recorded, and their brilliance is lost forever. Only the immediate listeners possibly were inspired, even though some of them undoubtedly may have been clinking their drink glasses in a gregarious haze, not really hearing the instant masterpieces that blessed them, one measure at a time, during those two nights.
One of the regulars at Bradley’s, Kenny Barron often came in to stretch out with his bassist friends after worldwide tours, appearing as a sideman on innumerable recording dates or teaching at Rutgers, from which he recently retired after 25 years. When Barron wasn’t performing, chances are that he may have dropped in to Bradley’s to listen, for some of the greatest New York City-based jazz pianists performed there, including Thelonious Monk, Tommy Flanagan, Teddy Wilson, Jimmy Rowles, Cedar Walton and Hank Jones. A favorite hangout of Paul Desmond’s, the inimitable saxophonist willed his grand piano to the club, allowing the pianists who followed to create such warm and full sounds that noisier clubs couldn’t facilitate.
On those 4 April nights in 1996, Barron brought along his close friends, Ray Drummond and Ben Riley, to capture the ease of playing made possible only by those who know each others’ thoughts. The styles of each musician are so well known that one could almost predict what the recording may sound like. But like all exceptional musicians, they’re full of surprises as well.
Ending the set with “Canadian Sunset,” forever associated with Roger Williams, Barron and friends show how expectations can be turned upside-down as they abandon the famous trotting vamp for irrepressible swing. Just as you expect the high point of the interpretation to have been reached, the trio keeps piling layer of layer of detail and ever-newer ideas on top of the initial choruses, turning what could have been a short performance into 15 minutes of superlative work.
One of the Bradley’s customs that should be adopted by other clubs, not to mention by society at large, is the respect shown among the peers who perform there. Typically, piano players play each other’s compositions as a subtle nod of recognition. On the Barron CD, that custom is carried through when Barron plays James Williams’s inviting tune, “Alter Ego,” which he subjects to various perspectives, some burnished and others sparkling. No doubt, Williams has played a number of Barron’s compositions when he appeared at Bradley’s too.
Varying the song selection to include Miles Davis’s blazing “Solar” and the coolness of Rodgers & Hart’s “Blue Moon,” Barron takes the time to explore each song. Only 5 tracks appear on the CD. Why? The shortest track is almost 10 minutes.
Live At Bradley’s lets the listener be the fly on the wall of Bradley’s, thereby having the opportunity to appreciate the imagination and technique of one of the great piano players in jazz.