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JAZZ REVIEW

Barron and Haden Display Affectionate Musical Synergy

April 07, 1998|DON HECKMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

At first glance, pianist Kenny Barron and bassist Charlie Haden appear to be a musical odd couple. Barron's fleet, harmony-rich, sophisticated approach seems inherently diametrical to the dark fundamentalism of Haden's folk- and country-rooted style.

But there are similarities as well. Both are longtime educators, and both have had lengthy careers as much-in-demand sidemen. In recent years, Barron, 54, has become one of the most admired pianists in jazz. Haden, 60, also a preferred sideman, is busy as a leader, composer and musical partner to everyone from Lee Konitz to Pat Metheny.

More to the point, as was made amply clear Friday night in the duo's elegant opening set in the Jazz Club at the Orange County Performing Arts Center, there is a musical affection and understanding between the two artists that clearly transcends their stylistic differences. The program of tunes reflected the ballad orientation of their recently released Verve album, "Night and the City." Unlike the album, however, in which Haden often seemed to be cast in a supporting role, the performance was a true partnership, an interactive engagement in which each player's strength was encouraged to blossom and flourish.

Barron's sense of touch, his tonal command of his instrument, was never less than awesome. There were moments, especially in his melodic statements ("Body and Soul" was a good example), in which he seemed to be drawing the sounds out of the piano with the timbral variation of a musician playing a wind instrument.

Haden supported Barron with his familiar big, bottomy sound, listening intently to the piano lines, responding to sudden shifts of musical direction with his own counterbalancing movements. His soloing, with its unusual mixture of riff-like ostinatos and pure melodism, made every note count, carefully avoiding a current popular trend toward fast-note virtuosity for its own sake.

The full-house audience in the Jazz Club savored every moment, listening intently, responding enthusiastically to each especially enticing musical moment.

The program was repeated on Saturday night before similarly large and enthusiastic crowds. Sadly, it was the only other Southland performance scheduled by this gifted pair of jazz artists during their current tour .

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