Twenty Fingers, Three Sets

This weekend was a good one for shows.  I had planned to go to four different shows, but I had to ditch on Wycliffe Gordon because it was sold out(Louis Armstrong tributes tend to draw) and I left Jimmy Heath, because for some reason I wasn’t in the mood.  I wonder if that’s going to happen often or not.  It was a big band, 35 bucks, and I was in a mellow mood.

I ended up seeing Kenny Barron twice and Steve Kuhn once.  I wish I had seen Steve Kuhn twice instead.

I’m not so familiar with Steve’s playing, honestly.  It seems to me that he’s vastly underappreciated, especially since he had McCoy’s job(you know, the one that made him famous) and Keith Jarrett’s job(you know, the one that made him famous), both times preceding the other pianist.  In this day in age, he sounds pretty conservative stylistically, although he was very intricate and modern in terms of phrasing and rhythm.  Once in a while, he’d hit a complex harmonic something or other that made me suspect that he might have been playing the gig, instead of making a statement.  He was definitely there to have fun though, the house music before the gig was Bemsha Swing, which he quoted often during the set.  The thing about his quotes were that they ran into other quotes, which he turned the key around on.  It was entertaining, and not cheesy in the least.  Quoting is a definite part of the tradition, people tend to forget that.

The rhythm section couldn’t have been better.  Buster Williams and Billy Drummond.  I’m just going to say that Buster is the most impressive of the old guard bassists, although he’s extremely modern.  Everything he plays is a melody, but his feel and harmonic content is constantly pushing.  His pitch and tone are not as great as someone like Patitucci, but his content is all original and from the soul.  He was having fun with Billy, but not fun in the same way that Steve was.  Steve was happy playing around and rearranging things.  Buster and Billy were happy because they were taking care of business, and they damn well knew it.

The two times I saw Kenny were interesting.  The band was [Dayna Stevens] on tenor, [Kyoshi Kitagawa] on bass and my perennial favorite Jonathon Blake on drums. The rhythm section was an interesting fit.  The only time there was a stone cold lock feel wise was when the tempo was at 300.   It seemed like the section was playing a whole bunch of stuff that Kenny either wasn’t hearing or didn’t feel like responding to.  This was especially true of the Friday set.  The tunes were all pretty straight ahead, no tricks or arrangements.

The Sunday set was much better.  They played some real compositions, my favorite of which were a Victor Lewis  composition, “Hey, it’s me you’re talking to” and Kenny’s tune from a film he did, titled “Life in the slow lane”  That tune in particular was amazing.  A slow and subtle swing tune with a pentatonic theme in fourths.  I haven’t heard Kenny play so well since that show with Frank Wess around this time last year.  I was upset when his solo ended.

As for the band, Dayna sounded better than I’ve ever heard him, evoking a melodic concept, being extremely aware about what was going on around him.  Really great.  His upper register tended to falter(I’m assuming as a result of his tone, which is a bit idiosyncratic) and he wasn’t exactly a badass at some of the higher tempos.  I’m not familiar with Kitagawa’s playing, but I can say two things:  he has tempos together, and he is the best at double-triple-quadruple stops that I’ve ever heard.  He had a solo on a faster tune where it was all double or more stops and ambiguous melodic stuff.  Very reminiscent of Mingus and Richard Davis, which of course I liked.  Jonathon was playing like himself, which is great.  As for the music created, with Kenny I’d rather hear someone a little more relaxed, but I’m not going to fault the guy for it.

Jim Hall at Birdland this week!  Very exciting.  Frank Wess sold out at Dizzy’s last week.  Very lame for me without at ticket…

On a side note, Dayna Stephens has kidney disease, and is paying $4,000 a month for medication.  I know Accountants that can’t afford that.  If you feel so inclined, please visit and help at

“Men have died for this music.  You can’t get more serious than that.”

-John Birks “Dizzy” Gillespie



~ by Martin Porter on November 4, 2011.

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