Personnel: Kenny Barron (piano); Anne Drummond (flute, alto flute); Stefon Harris (vibraphone); Kiyoshi Kitagawa (double bass); Kim Thompson (drums).
Hard-bop pianist Kenny Barron has been a "musician's musician" for decades, playing behind such towering figures as Dizzy Gilles pie, Yusef Lateef, Stan Getz, and Freddie Hubbard. But in the 1990s, Barron began to take center stage, leading mostly trios through a series of albums that established him as a fine composer of intricate but madly swinging tunes. On IMAGES, he's assembled a somewhat unusual lineup, dispensing with any reeds or brass--just piano, flute, vibes, bass, and drums. The result is a set of bright, deceptively easygoing straight-ahead jazz--imagine the Modern Jazz Quartet after a long vacation in Brazil, where they drank lots of coffee.
While this album seems mellow on first listen, there's a lot going on under the surface: sharp time-signature changes (a la Dave Brubeck), breakneck tempos, Brazilian undertones, and complex, darting but always pretty melodies. Not to overlook the soloing; Barron consistently dazzles with his lean, Thelonious Monk-tinged style, Stefon Harris's vibes glisten like morning sunlight, and Anne Drummond's flute is both soothing and spirited simultaneously. IMAGES is recommended to not only Barron and jazz-piano fans, but those who think music can't be intensely artistic and accessible at once.