Pianist Kenny Barron's first bossa nova album—West Side Story Bossa Nova—was recorded in March 1963. The session was led by Barron's older brother Bill, a gifted arranger and saxophonist. Kenny Barron played on three tracks—Jet Song, Something's Coming and Maria. The other tracks were handled by pianist Steve Kuhn, along with Willie Thomas (tp) Kenny Burrell (g) Henry Grimes (b) Charlie Persip (d) and Jose Soares (perc). [Photo above of Kenny Barron by Carol Friedman]
Fifty years later, Kenny Barron has released another—Kenny Barron & The Brazilian Knights (Sunnyside)—and it's beautiful. The album has all the lyricism and tenderness you'd expect from a pianist of Barron's taste and technique. Recorded in Rio de Janeiro in June 2012, the sidemen include Claudio Roditi (trumpet and flugelhorn), Idriss Boudrioua (alto sax), Mauricio Einhorn (harmonica), Alberto Chimelli (keyboards), Lula Galvao (guitar), Sergio Barrozo (bass) and Rafael Barata (drums).
In many ways, this is a tribute album honoring the music of bossa nova composers Johnny Alf (who died in 2010) and Mauricio Einhorn [pictured], who plays here. Other song choices include Antonio Carlos Jobim's Triste, Baden Powell's So Por Amor and Alberto Chimelli's Chorinho Carioca. Barron's own Sonia Braga is here, too.
On this album, we get to hear Barron's magnificent chord voicings in a swaying Brazilian setting. Since the bossa's lineage can be traced back in part to jazz, Barron's sound and phrasing fit in neatly. If you're unfamiliar with Einhorn's bossa harmonica, you're in for a treat. He manipulates the instrument to sound more like a reed instrument than accordion sidekick, which is a relief, and Claudio Roditi is superb.
What makes this album special is how delicate the group plays together. Songs surge without overloading, and melodies rule. And by recording in Rio, Barron is supported by an authentic bossa sound and feel. For me, a perfect bossa nova is like a glorious sundae. There's sweet texture without sugary thickness, a festive spirit without percussionists hijacking the feel, and an explosion of joy without melodies sliding into gooey nostalgia.
Once again, Barron's taste triumphs—this time with the breezy skills of Brazilian peers. What you get are surf-and-sand bossas that deftly avoid tilting commercial or folk. Barron's brother Bill, who died in 1989, would be proud.
JazzWax tracks: You'll find Kenny Barron & The Brazilian Knights (Sunnyside) here.
JazzWax clips: Here's Maria from Bill Barron's West Side Story Bossa Nova from 1963, with Kenny Barron on piano...
And here's Johnny Alf's Rapaz De Bem, from Kenny Barron & The Brazilian Knights...