Barron Plays Up a Storm at Rio Das Ostras Festival in Brazil
A torrential downpour didn’t stop ace pianist Kenny Barron from unleashing his own musical maelstrom on the main stage Thursday night at Brazil’s Rio Das Ostras Jazz & Blues Festival.
Despite minor transportation setbacks from a continuous, three-day stretch of inclement weather, the Barron quintet’s performance provided much-needed refuge to the enthusiastic crowds, most of whom gripped umbrellas and showered the stage with applause through the group’s waterproof vibing and admirable knack for lyrical, musical storytelling.
Barron led the ensemble through a handful of originals and an assortment of standards. Touching on the work of Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn, Barron diligently guided the pack with his signature elegance and narrative approach. A romantic ambience permeated the set as Barron combined delightful, right-handed arpeggiated aerobatics with graceful, low-end anchor work. Barron astutely knows when to jump in. His ability to push and pull as necessary was evident, and he generously offered the stage to his collaborators while allowing himself to settle in comfortably.
The set featured climatic, hard-bop highlights as drum wunderkind Johnathan Blake unbridled a flood of chaotic fills and extemporized time changes that garnered a wave of applause. Perhaps the result of his days with Tom Harrell, Blake has a talent for creating dynamics where there were none, or reinventing straight-shooting post-bop in a way that’s freer, faster and heart-pumping. It’s emotive and it’s absolutely penetrating, but like the quintet’s leader, the young drummer is a pro at exercising restraint and playing rhythmic partner-in-crime by shimmering and sizzling on the ride. With Blake, it’s always a roller coaster of intensity, yet you’re confident you’ll get off safely—there’s a combination of full-throttle drama and effortless coasting. Blake propels himself into the cookers but can also pull on the reins when the song calls for expressive melody, or he can backpedal into the pocket.
Bassist Kiyoshi Kitagawa definitely knows how to hold down the fort, and was probably the most fixed fixture throughout the set as his precise, no-nonsense walkers were spot-on during minor blues tunes, swingers and lighthearted, quixotic material.
Trumpeter Mike Rodriguez, a master of fluidity, was often front-and-center to brave the rain during the set. Rodriguez’s delivery is highly sensitive, and he maintained an intuitive, melodious slant on each tune. Switching to flugelhorn on select numbers, he mutes when it’s called for, but given the space, he can really blow.
Other mainstage acts on Thursday evening included Plataforma C, Michael Hill and Maurício Einhorn. For more information on the Rio Das Ostras Jazz & Blues Festival, visit the fest’s website.