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Album Spotlight

September 15, 1996|Don Heckman

KENNY BARRON AND MINO CINELU

"Swamp Sally"

Verve

* * *

Kenny Barron's odyssey through the rich and varied territory of jazz continues with this unusual duet album with percussionist Mino Cinelu. The pianist's catalog of recordings already includes an extensive array of rhythm section gigs with Dizzy Gillespie, Freddie Hubbard, Yusef Lateef and Ron Carter, a stint with the '80s group Sphere and, of course, the superb series of duos with Stan Getz recorded shortly before the saxophonist's death.

But he's never done anything quite like this album, in which he works solely with Cinelu, a talented and enormously versatile percussionist (who adds some mandolin, banjo, guitar, keyboards and vocals). The pieces are all over the place, from the grooving title track to the lyrical "Shibui," the avant-garde-sounding "Beneath It All" and "Conversation" and the rollicking, two-part "Louisiana Memories."

Although there are occasional solo tracks and much of the music is basically done live in a dialogue between Barron's piano and Cinelu's drums, there also are substantial sections involving intricate overdubbing and multitracked synthesizer passages. Yet the remarkable connection between two players, who obviously are totally in sync with each other, not only survives but flourishes in the complicated musical structures.

"It was a true yin-and-yang collaboration," Cinelu said in a telephone interview. "We fit like hand in glove. It almost seemed as though whenever one of us suggested something to try, it was completed by the other."

This despite the fact that Barron, unlike Cinelu, who handled most of the technical elements in the recording's production, has rarely worked in a similar environment.

"This is a way of making an album that I wasn't used to," Barron explained, "using the synthesizer, being concerned about different sounds, multitracking. And then you have to remember that I'm used to making jazz records, the kind of sessions that you do in a few hours. This took a few days--and then some."

Which was not, in itself, a particularly long period of time for a collection of music that ranges from Barron's elegant jazz ballads to almost indefinable blends of world music percussion and straight-ahead improvising between two intuitively compatible players. It is music that stretches the definition of jazz by adding both ethnic and electronic elements without losing touch with the music's essential swing and spontaneity.

If Barron was bothered by the process, it is not evident in his playing. The bright, captivating improvisational work that seems to get better and better in his playing of the last few years sounds stimulated by the unusual studio demands.

On the driving "Relentless Pursuit," for example, he begins with a high-flying, lyrical piano improvisation, then counters it with a series of driving synthesizer passages. In some cases, though it is not at all noticeable, Barron laid down his lines before the drums were added.

"I played the piano solo on 'Beneath It All' without hearing the drums," he said. "But I think I was still able to get a certain sense of urgency in the chorus, and then when I heard what Mino added later on percussion, I was really blown away."

Cinelu's contribution, if less upfront than Barron's, is no less impressive. Best known as a percussionist with Weather Report, he has also had a diverse career, having worked with Miles Davis, Gil Evans, Herbie Hancock, Sting and others. And his versatility is on full display here--not just in terms of the wide range of instruments he plays but also via the manner in which he galvanizes every note, bringing a sense of surging swing and momentum that belies the multitrack circumstances in which the recording was made.

"The bottom line," Cinelu said, "is that it's not about the studio or the process, it's about the music. It always has to be that way when Kenny's involved. And the truth is that I was completely turned on by the risk and the adventure of working with just the two of us."

*

Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good, recommended), four stars (excellent).

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