Beyond This Place
Release date: May 10, 2024
Label: Artwork / PIAS
GRAMMY NOMINEE

NEA Jazz Master, 13-time Grammy nominee, and DownBeat Hall of Famer Kenny Barron's new album Beyond This Place is a quintet effort featuring one of the most gifted and synergistic groups that Barron has led yet. An intergenerational ensemble, it includes his longtime rhythm section of bassist Kiyoshi Kitagawa and drummer Johnathan Blake, along with the nonpareil vibraphonist Steve Nelson, who received one of his earliest recording credits with Barron, for the pianist’s 1982 LP Golden Lotus. Also onboard is the 26-year-old alto saxophonist Immanuel Wilkins, whose leader recordings for Blue Note, The 7th Hand, and Omega, have earned him deep respect and renown among critics and dedicated jazzheads. The saxophonist’s “quartet … has become a band that members of the young generation can measure their own ideas up against,” posits the New York Times. Wilkins’ presence also serves as a reminder of Barron’s enduring commitment to mentorship in jazz, as both an employer of rising players and a celebrated music educator. Indeed, the Barron school’s cast of alumni is mighty and includes Terence Blanchard, Jon Batiste, Aaron Parks, and Gerald Clayton, among countless others.  

What’s more, for a resourceful bandleader like Barron, a quintet is never simply a quintet; it’s also a thrilling piano trio, various inspired duos, and a deft quartet. Although the pianist has utilized the quintet format before, notably on Concentric Circles, his acclaimed Blue Note debut from 2018, the alliances throughout Beyond This Place demonstrate an exceptional kind of clairvoyance in improvisation, as if each member can foresee the other’s next move. (Maybe it’s something in the water: Barron, Wilkins, and Blake all hail from Philadelphia, that storied jazz town where the pianist experienced a lightning-bolt moment in hearing John Coltrane’s Classic Quartet at the legendary Showboat.) 

The compositions Barron has chosen amount to a career-spanning survey, in which meaningful selections underscore past triumphs and steadfast enthusiasms. Per usual, the program is expertly unfurled; live or on record, the man knows how to pace a set. 

Beyond This Place kicks off with a quartet read of the standard “The Nearness of You,” which highlights the ageless kinship between Barron and Wilkins — two modernists at once forward-looking and reverent of jazz history, with technique to spare. Barron’s “Scratch,” which the composer introduced as the title track to a 1985 trio record with

Dave Holland and Daniel Humair is a delightfully Monkian theme attacked here with Parker/Roach zest. 

“Innocence,” a Barron tune that titled his 1978 LP for Wolf Records, is archetypal post-bop, with a sleek, noirish theme and a slow-burning tempo; later on, Barron’s “Tragic Magic” is a brisker, edgier post-bop vehicle that pays homage to his piano hero Tommy Flanagan. Blake’s offering, “Blues on Stratford Road,” is self-explanatory in the most gratifying way — durable corner-bar hard bop of the Blue Note variety. (Blake is in fact a Blue Note recording artist as a leader, though his dates are more resolutely contemporary.) 

Melodically and harmonically, Barron’s patiently grooving “Beyond This Place” is gorgeous, with a gospelish lilt. At a bit over three minutes, a Barron-Blake duet of “Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise” is an album peak — a raw and candid burst of virtuosity that makes you feel as if you’re eavesdropping on an especially rousing rehearsal. As ever, Blake’s drumming is a model of tautly controlled strength. The inclusion of “Sunset” takes Barron back to his very first LP — very first track, even — as a bandleader. In 1973, on the Muse release Sunset to Dawn, Barron played electric piano and opened the piece with an ambient, psychedelic overture. Here, “Sunset” proves just how fully formed Barron had arrived as a bandleader a half-century ago; it feels representative of his best and most personal work — a smart, simmering modern-jazz composition that betrays a love of Latin rhythm, and acts as an ideal ballast for transparent, revealing solos. With regard to Steve Nelson, his spotlight presents his unerring good taste and thoughtful musicality; in other words, he seems incapable of playing even one note without meaning. “We See,” by Barron’s guiding light Thelonious Monk, is a duologue between the pianist and Wilkins, and it evokes nothing short of Barron’s historic tandem sets with Stan Getz.      

Beyond This Place is a superb way for Barron to commence his ninth — ninth! — decade. Even inside a discography crowded with wondrous music, it is a special recording by an extraordinary band.

The Source
Release date: January 20, 2023
Label: Artwork Records
GRAMMY NOMINEE

NEA Jazz Master Kenny Barron issues his first solo piano release since 1981. The Source presents a personal expression at its most intentional and most vulnerable. He relies solely on the music and the moment to guide his exploration. Returning to four original compositions and five enduring tunes, he creates new pathways through familiar forms. Each song, however orchestrated and tempoed, becomes an intimate gesture.

“One of the things I’m after when I’m playing is communicating on an emotional level,” says the 79-year-old artist. A response of ‘Hmmm…’ is not what I’m after; ‘That was really interesting,’ is not what I’m after. I want people to feel something.”

The Source abandons pretense. In stretching out — at times, settling his solo performance nerves — Barron transmits truth. Over the years, he’s allowed the record’s nine selections — each reflecting a poignant turn in his development and a vivid memory — to move rapidly or evolve slowly, in different directions. And while their interpretation may change from one performance to the next, sometimes moment to moment, his approach persists. “To be able to move somebody, to me, is the highest compliment.”

The Source proffers an expansion of Barron’s live expression. He pays the simplest melodies nuanced attention, romancing dissonance for the sweetest sounds. He gives listeners permission to let go, providing an anchor of motion from one section to the next. But perhaps most intrinsic to Barron’s sound, after so many years, is its humanness. He plays through uncertainty, translates strength and frailty, and remains at once present and reflective.

“Playing solo is still nerve-racking,” says Barron. “After the first song, it usually goes away. It’s the initial feeling of sitting down alone. You realize there’s no one else to cover you if you make a mistake. You’re out there by yourself. Which is okay. But it always takes a minute to realize that it’s okay.”

The Source opens out of time and with conviction. First appearing as the title track of his 1986 recording, “What If?” provides beauty and rub, and a reimagining of a bass line borrowed from Hasaan Ibn Ali. When the bass line dissipates into the fluidity of the tune, his exploration intensifies: “I viewed that bass line as a vessel for freedom. From there, I could go in almost any direction.” When he first heard Johnny Hodges solo on “Isfahan,” and before he ever recorded it with Sphere, Barron knew he would play the tune for the rest of his life. “I love that song,” he says. Tenderness unfurls across his introduction before the music settles into an invitational tempo that allows the artist to take his time phrase to phrase; in true Ellington/Strayhorn reverence, he makes a distinct statement at every chorus. A more recent addition to his repertoire, by way of Benny Green, Thelonious Monk’s “Teo” captures an invention of Barron’s sound at once playful and profound — in equal measure. “The music offers you a lot of space. You can take it anywhere.”

Barron stretches his signature lyricism into every corner of Billy Strayhorn’s “Daydream,” a song he first remembers hearing on Andy Bey’s Ballads, Blues & Bey. His introduction to “I’m Confessin’” arrived during a Philadelphia hit with Philly Joe Jones. Paul Chambers called the tune. “I must have made a face, and Philly Joe said, ‘It ain’t gonna be no drag.’ And it wasn’t.” The Source features Barron’s second solo piano studio recording of “Dolores Street SF,” first recorded on his 1982 release Spiral. Melodic and contemplative, his playing moves in and out of time through the music, and his dynamic choices serve what is, at times, a wistful and melancholic gesture.

“There’s always a Monk song on every record I do,” says Barron. Typically, he plays “Well You Needn’t” in conversation with longtime trio-mate, drummer Johnathan Blake. His solo interpretation of the composition reflects its duo history with Blake. “I hear him in my head,” says Barron. “He has such great ideas. He makes me play in a different way.” One of Barron’s many compositions that have been recorded by his peers, “Sunshower” emerged during a soundcheck. Its haunting and resonant syncopation continues providing fresh material for Barron to explore. “It’s just a fun song to play,” he says. Once upon a time, Barron had the inclination to compose a tune in the spirit of Ornette Coleman. “It didn’t work out,” he says, “but something else happened.” Since he first recorded “Phantoms” with his quintet in 1986, the song has been in heavy rotation during his live performances. “It’s not what I originally had in mind, but I’m very happy with the results.”

More than 40 years after his last solo piano release, The Source shares a fresh translation of a long held truth in Barron’s artistry: “You’re always your most critical peer. You always hear what you missed, what you didn’t play right. But the listener can’t react to what your intentions are. They can only react to what they hear. If you’re connecting with them on an emotional level, that’s what matters.”

ADAM FEIBEL
JAZZ.FM91
Read the album announcement here.

KEVIN WHITEHEAD
NPR
"Kenny Barron is so fully present and in his element on ‘The Source,’ you hear head, fingers and heart in true alignment." More here.

ED ENRIGHT
DOWNBEAT
Editor's pick. Read the full review here.

LEONID AUSKERN
JAZZ QUAD
Read the review in Russian here.

CATHERINE CARETTE
RADIO FRANCE
Read the feature in French here.

D. OSCAR GROOMES
O'S PLACE
"The music is vibrant, peaceful, dynamic and compassionate owed to the master, Barron at work." Read the review here.

DEE DEE MCNEIL
MUSICAL MEMOIRS
"Always brilliant on piano.." Review here.

MICHAEL TOLAND
THE BIG TAKEOVER
The Source makes us hope he doesn’t wait another four decades before the next solo recording.” Read the review here.

BURAK SULUNBAZ
DARK BLUE NOTES
Read the review in Turkish here.

RUSSELL TRUNK
EXCLUSIVE MAGAZINE
Read the album announcement here.

CHLOE RABINOWITZ
BROADWAY WORLD
Read the news story here.

ALEX DUTILH / EMMANUELLE LACAZE
RADIO FRANCE
Listen to the featured episode in French here.

MIKE HOBART
FINANCIAL TIMES
“This release, Barron’s first solo piano album in more than 40 years, conveys his urbane angularities with warmth, elegance and a sensitive touch.” Read the 4-star review here.

JOE LANG
JERSEY JAZZ
"Barron is one of the true giants of jazz piano and The Source will reenforce his standing among the elite of jazz keyboard. " Read the review in the February issue of Jersey Jazz.

MICHAEL ULLMAN
THE ARTS FUSE
"Every serious jazz collector must have him playing somewhere with somebody." Review here.

STEPHEN GRAHAM
MARLBANK
Review here.

MIKE JURKOVIC
ALL ABOUT JAZZ
"NEA Master Kenny Barron never fails to elicit a warm, enveloping sense of elegy, wit and emotional balance to whatever setting the music finds him." Read the 4-star review here.

MATT MICUCCI
JAZZIZ
Read the album announcement in The Week in Jazz here.

GARY WALKER
WBGO
Played on New Day, New Play spotlight here.

STEPHEN GRAHAM
MARLBANK
"Linger, savour - The Source will make your day." Read the review here.

JAMES HALE
SOUNDSTAGE EXPERIENCE
Barron displays an exceptional attention to detail, blending superb musicality with thoughtfulness." Read the review here.

DAN BILAWSKY
JAZZTIMES
"Drawing from a deep wellspring of creativity throughout, Kenny Barron leaves no doubt as to his stature as one of the greatest." Read the review here.

DAVID BROWN
ALL ABOUT JAZZ
Featured on playlist here.

STUART NICHOLSON
JAZZWISE
“At heart a master of melodic construction in the storytelling sense.." Read the 4-star review in the March 2023 issue of Jazzwise Magazine.

TOM HENRY
TOLEDO BLADE
Read the review here.

MATT MICUCCI
JAZZIZ
"This week’s playlist opens with Kenny Barron, stretching his signature lyricism into every corner of Billy Strayhorn’s 'Daydream,' one of the tracks from his recently-released The Source, his first solo piano album in over 40 years." See the Editors' Choice playlist here.

SASCHA FEINSTEIN
JAZZIZ
“..one hears a new level of mastery now, where the sensibility of hard bop has fused organically with memorable elegance.” Read the review here.

LEONARD WEINREICH
LONDON JAZZ NEWS
"..if you're jazz master Kenny Barron, fear evaporates as your fingers caress the keyboard." Read the review here.

JASON CRANE
THE JAZZ SESSION
Listen to the full featured episode here.

GEORGE KANZLER
NEW YORK CITY JAZZ RECORD
"A veteran of Monk tribute band Sphere, Barron is a creative interpreter, never aping the master’s style while still illuminating it." Read the review in the March 2023 issue here.

CHRISTOF THURNHERR
JAZZ'N'MORE MAGAZINE
Read the review in German in the March/April 2023 print issue of JAZZ'N'MORE Magazine.

JOSHUA MEYERS
DOWNBEAT
"..technical mastery meets tradition.." Read the 4.5 star review in the March 2023 issue of DownBeat Magazine.

JOHN KIM
MMJAZZ MAGAZINE
See Kenny on the cover of MMJazz Magazine and read the full cover story in the March 2023 issue.

MATT MICUCCI
JAZZIZ
Track "Teo" featured on Editors' Choice playlist here.

LUCA CONTI
MUSICAJAZZ
Read the review in Italian in the May 2023 print issue.

JIM MACNIE
LAMENT FOR A STRAIGHT LINE
“..The Source’s true thrill is monitoring the pianist’s decisions as he sorts the material at hand, revealing his approach’s grace and literacy.” Read the review here.

JEROME WILSON
ALL ABOUT JAZZ
"This is Kenny Barron's first album of solo piano since 1981 and it shows the breadth of his playing extremely well." Review here.

ED ENRIGHT
DOWNBEAT
"...The Source serves as a direct emotional connection between Barron and the listener, abandoning all sense of pretense and serving as a fountain of honest, intimate gestures that unfold organically, one right into the next; there are no canned goods for sale here, and nothing forced.." View the full review here.

MAURIZIO ZERBO
ALL ABOUT JAZZ
"This CD demonstrates, if ever there was a need, that only talent and creativity can effectively support valid recording projects if they focus on the revisitation of jazz standards." View the full review in Spanish here.

GEORGE VARGA
THE SAN DIEGO UNION TRIBUNE
Check out this feature on the editors best of 2023 list here.

MIKE
ADULT MUSIC PODCAST
Check out this feature on the hosts best of 2023 list here.

EDITOR
JAZZ PHILADELPHIA
"The Source is a masterful work which showcases his extraordinary technical skills, and exudes unique empathy and depth of emotion." Check out this feature on the hosts best of 2023 list here.

LUDOVICO GRANVASSU
ALL ABOUT JAZZ
Check out this feature on the editors best of 2023 list here.

MICHAEL AMBROSINO 
33 THIRD
"Perhaps there’s no better way then to marvel at his mastery than listening to him waltzing alone with his own genius." Check out the full review here.