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Athenaeum Jazz at the Neurosciences Institute concluded their spring concert series with another sold-out performance--this one by the understated, yet masterful pianist Kenny Barron.

The evening was made doubly satisfying by the sonic purity of the constituent circumstances: one man, one piano — no amplification.

It was left to Barron, his imagination and his remarkable touch to make the Steinway grand sing in the acoustically amazing concert hall — and he was up to the task.

Beginning with a lush reading of "Love Walked In," the pianist's innate sense of rhythmic flow kept the inherent swing an implied force rather than an implicit one until mid-point where he laced the form with bluesy asides and complex chord-substitutions. When his left hand finally broke into a rollicking bass line, Barron sang along with his astonishingly speedy right hand.

Barron is one of the most reliable interpreters of Thelonious Monk the world has ever known. He was doing Monk well before it became de rigueur in jazz circles, so it was a definite thrill when he plowed, head-first into "Shuffle-Boil," with Monk's idiosyncratic intervals and jagged rhythms intact. He even transformed certain sections into a twisted stride before splaying out streams of notes over a relentless turn-back sequence.

As much as the first set clinched the prima facie argument for Barron's place in the jazz-piano pantheon, it was all just a warm-up for the magic to come in the second set.

From the immediately recognizable strains of "Like Someone In Love," the pianist owned the evening. Alternating between rococo flourishes and pure distillations of the melody--Barron's fingers danced along the keys with a dazzling choreography. There was such joy in the power of his approach to swing--it had me on the edge of my seat.

The pianist's mastery of the Monk repertoire once again surfaced with his absolutely manic recasting of "Well, You Needn't," in which a free-associative intro gave birth to tangential alacrity loping around clanging intervals. He completely dissected and reassembled the tune with cascading strands of right hand wizardry over crashing chords in the left. He didn't really play the melody until the end, and even then, it was masked--but you knew all along you were experiencing the essence of the composition in a way no "straight" reading would have accomplished.

It was a glorious performance by an often under-sung master of the piano. "Like Someone In Love," and "Well, You Needn't," are still reverberating in my brain.

Photo by Katie Walders, Athenaeum Music & Arts Library

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