Kenny Barron

The Source

The Source is Kenny Barron’s first solo album to be released since his landmark 1981 recording Kenny Barron At The Piano (Xanadu). Like that initial, auspicious solo outing, The Source consists of Barron-penned originals (“What If,” “Dolores Street,” “Sunshower,” “Phantoms”), Thelonious Monk tunes (“Téo,” “Well You Needn’t”), Duke Ellington/Billy Strayhorn compositions (“Isfahan,” “Daydream”) and one standard from the Great American Songbook (“I’m Confessin’”). And, just like its predecessor of 40 years, 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. The music draws from a seemingly bottomless well of stylistic perspectives under Barron’s command — including straightahead jazz, swinging standards, canonic classical music, barrelhouse blues, bossa nova and free improv — revealing exactly why the 79-year-old DownBeat Hall of Famer has long been esteemed as a master of his craft who thrives in any setting, whether playing solo, leading a trio or accompanying a featured artist. Barron’s every statement on The Source is expressed with uttermost elegance and virtuosity. The album could alternatively be titled Kenny Barron: All The Things You Are, as the NEA Jazz Master crafts a loving ode to jazz and its closest relatives using all the source materials that have made him who he truly is.

Garrett Saracho

En Medio

This lost 1973 landmark Chicano jazz album is newly available. It’s a combination of jazz, funk, Latin soul and rock, rescued for modern audiences.

There are nearly a dozen people playing on En Medio. The opening track, “Sunday’s Church,” shifts up and down often as the combined star pianist and Fender Rhodes player Garrett Saracho competes with himself, tiptoeing around and then ripping his instruments apart. “Happy Sad” is a bit more mannered, bringing in a violinist. Then, “Rose For A Lady” is a spectacular blend of a saxophonist (Lawrence “Patience” Higgins) and Mendio on piano.

Flipping the record over, “Senor Bakor” starts off with a lot of mood and percussion, but then Saracho hangs back to give his horn players some room to breathe, until his guitarist, James Herndon, comes in and shuts this down with a breathtaking solo.

The disc ends with “Conquest De Mejico,” an apparently live recording that showcases a lot of quick work between drums, bass, sax and piano.

En Medio exists again. Long live.

Doug Wamble

Blues In The Present Tense

If you’re looking for a tried-and-true, gut-bucket blues record, this may not be your jam. But for those seeking an adventurous amalgam of blues, jazz and blue-eyed soul, put the headphones on and crank it up. As a guitarist, Doug Wamble has a crazy different concept and chops to burn. His guitar drips with the acoustic twang of a bluesman’s heart and the seeking nature of a jazzman’s head. It’s at once sophisticated and intensely stripped down. How could it not be, given the company Wamble keeps on Blues In The Present Tense? On drums he recruited Jeff “Tain” Watts, with Eric Revis on bass. Then toss in a badass saxophone player named Prometheus Jenkins (aka Branford Marsalis), and you’ve got the classic Branford Marsalis Trio playing blues behind a killing guitarist. Now, throw them into a recording studio for a day. Bam! Pure, spontaneous magic. If the opening number, “Homesick,” don’t make ya wanna say, “Hell, yeah,” then just go take your third nap of the day and call your nurse. The album has Wamble and company singing and playing their way through so many of the issues facing the world today, perhaps none more poignant than “Maga Brain,” a song with a clever name-play on the P-Funk classic “Maggot Brain,” but moreover, an indictment of the divisiveness in the country — even within families. Now, are there straight-ahead blues on this record? Sure, “Along The Way” and “Blues For The Praying Man” have that familiar, classic feel. But the difference here is the sheer genius of the musicians. Watts is unlike any blues drummer you’ve ever heard, breaking rules with pomp and swagger while Revis locks in the pocket good and tight with a serious slap and tickle on the bass. Jenkins, for his contributions, is onboard for a good time with flurries of blasphemous notes that go straight to the soul. So the result sounds like four master musicians going to the mother well of music and creating a tsunami. It’s one part recording session, one part amazing jam session. To learn more about Doug Wamble, check out the feature article in the January 2023 issue of DownBeat.

Ahmad Jamal

Emerald City Nights: Live At The Penthouse (1963–1964) / (1965–1966)
(Jazz Detective)

The Ahmad Jamal Trio was at the top of the jazz pops in the mid-1960s. The gloriously tight, powerhouse team was in big demand, a headlining act with a stellar musical reputation, radio hits and a calendar full of sold-out club gigs across the country. In the course of their regular travels, the trio’s annual appearances at the Penthouse in Seattle’s historic district were highly anticipated affairs, extended engagements that typically lasted 10 days and drew waves of audiences that were enthusiastic to say the least. More than a dozen of the group’s performances at the intimate, low-ceilinged room were broadcast and recorded by local radio station KING-FM’s on-air host and engineer Jim Wilke, and those air check tapes are the source of these previously unissued gems, presented here in a pair of deluxe packages from producer Zev Feldman’s new label imprint, Jazz Detective. Emerald City Nights: Live At The Penthouse (1963–1964) and (1965–1966) reveal the commanding, dynamic pianist in dazzling form, backed by bassists Richard Evans and Jamil Nasser and drummer Chuck Lampkin on the 1963–’64 shows, and by Nasser and drummers Lampkin, Vernel Fournier and Frank Gant on the 1965–’66 dates. Jamal has always stated his preference for live gigs — noting that there’s “no comparison” between performing before an audience and recording in the studio — and that mindset proves a powerful force in generating the momentum of invention that propels these vibrant sets. Covering much of Jamal’s signature repertoire from a golden era for the piano trio, the Live At The Penthouse collections are treasure troves for listeners who have followed the nonagenarian pianist, composer and bandleader’s long career, and fans of the classic soul-jazz spirit in general. The sound is excellent considering the live environment, thanks to Wilke’s quality source material and Feldman and company’s keen ability to refine and enhance tapes rescued from the vaults of jazz history. The limited-edition, double-LP vinyl sets are issued on 180-gram discs transferred from the original tapes and mastered by Bernie Grundman. The music is also available as two-CD sets and as digital downloads. A third, two-LP volume devoted to the Jamal trio’s 1966–’68 Penthouse recordings will be released at a later date, according to Feldman, whose production of all three Penthouse sets was supervised by Jamal himself. Both the 1963–1964 and 1965–1966 packages include substantial booklets with new reflections by Jamal about his work, as well as a treasure trove of pictures by celebrated jazz photographers Don Bronstein, Chuck Stewart and others. The 1963–1964 volume includes new interviews with Jamal’s hit-making contemporary Ramsey Lewis (1935–2022) and pianist Hiromi, while the 1965–1966 collection features interviews with pianists Jon Batiste, Kenny Barron and Aaron Diehl. Together, the irresistible music and enlightening bonus materials will transport you to a historic jazz listening room at a time when commanding pianism and feel-good grooves ruled the night.

On Sale Now
June 2023
James Brandon Lewis
Look Inside
Print | Digital | iPad