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Five Singular Sensations

The sum of the Kenny Barron Quintet is not as great as its parts.

March 02, 2000|DON HECKMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Assembling the elements of a smoothly functioning jazz ensemble isn't as easy as itseems. Sometimes, though each individual element appears to be a perfect choice, together they seem to lack effective connectivity.

The quintet, for example, that pianist Kenny Barron brought to the Jazz Bakery on Tuesday for a six-night run appeared to promise a wealth of jazz riches. It's hard to expect anything less from an ensemble that includes Barron, tenor saxophonist David Sanchez, trumpeter Terrell Stafford, bassist Rufus Reid and drummer Billy Hart.

But the opening performance of the ensemble simply never jelled into a unified musical expression. That's not to say there weren't plenty of superlative individual moments in a program largely devoted to material from Barron's new album, "Spirit Song." But even those took awhile to arrive.

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The initial tunes, in fact, had a surprisingly dated quality, the tenor and trumpet unison phrases and the straight-ahead rhythms recalling the idiosyncratic elements of numerous Blue Note recordings of the '50s and '60s.

It wasn't until Barron unfolded a stunningly lyrical solo on his original piece "Sonia Braga" (dedicated to the sensuous Brazilian actress) that the music--on an individual basis, at least--finally came alive. And, for the most part, it was Barron who kept the creative sparks flying.

He kicked off "Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise" at the sort of high-speed tempo that quickly separates the aspirants from the achievers. Immediately establishing his status in the latter category, he delivered a marvelous improvisation, filled with imaginative inner musical connections and sequences, and performed with almost casual virtuosic ease. It was a performance that made the entire set worthwhile.

Sanchez, who has played brilliantly with his own group, seemed a bit disconnected from the proceedings until the rapid-fire of "Softly . . . " ignited his own improvisational eruption. Stafford displayed fluent technical skills, but--like Sanchez--rarely approached the playing level he has achieved in other settings. And Reid and Hart, consummate professionals, appeared to be spending a good part of the set trying to adjust to the Bakery's quirky acoustics.

BE THERE

The Kenny Barron Quintet at the Jazz Bakery through Sunday, 3233 Helms Ave., (310) 271-9039. $25 admission tonight, Friday and Saturday at 8 and 9:30 p.m.; $25 admission Sunday at 7 and 8:30 p.m.

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