Magic Dance: The Music of Kenny Barron
Greg Abate (Whaling City Sound)
by Scott Yanow
Saxophonist Greg Abate’s two-CD set Magic Dance is the best type of tribute. Not only is it a straightahead exploration of 14 of Kenny Barron’s compositions, but also it features Barron himself, playing in prime form. Barron, who turns 78 this year, has been a significant pianist and composer since the early ‘60s. His playing has grown in its individuality and power through the years and he has long been a skilled but underrated composer. While his “Voyage” has caught on as a standard, most of his other originals were long overdue to be explored again at length. Abate, a veteran saxophonist based in New England who is best known on alto, had previously recorded with Barron just one time, for his 1996 album Bop Lives. For the tribute, Abate, Barron, bassist Dezron Douglas and drummer Johnathan Blake dig into many of the pianist’s finest songs, which often have accessible melodies along with complex and original chord changes. With the exception of “Voyage”, these are not the type of tunes that show up often at jam sessions. Abate, who is heard on five different instruments, overdubbed a second horn on five songs (mostly for the melody statements) and on “Innocence” and “Voyage” he is heard as a full five-part horn section. His playing is excellent throughout and his occasional soprano solos (most notably on “Innocence”) make the case for him being ranked as one of the top jazz players on that horn. Other highlights include the catchy “Sunshower”, picturesque “Cook’s Bay”, thoughtful “Rain”, an inventive and exciting arrangement of “Voyage” and every solo played by the ageless pianist. Magic Dance is one of the finest recent recordings by both Abate and Barron with the tribute not revisiting past triumphs but standing on its own as a superior modern jazz date.