Pianist Kenny Barron seemed especially proud of the band he brought to the Kennedy Center's Terrace Theater on Saturday night -- and with good reason, given its youthful energy and cohesive interplay.
In addition to the colorful contributions made by vibist Stefon Harris, a seasoned bandleader in his own right, the quintet's performances were consistently enhanced by flutist Anne Drummond, bassist Kiyoshi Kitagawa and drummer Kim Thompson. Among other things, Drummond's melodic finesse and Thompson's funk-tinted swing introduced some appealing contrasts.
The group opened the early show with three pieces composed by Barron, each displaying a different aspect of his talents and repertoire. "And Then Again," with its sunny, horn-inspired theme, celebrated bop traditions via a series of fluidly harmonized lines and dashing solos. "Phantoms," which began with a lovely piano prelude, underwent numerous changes in tempo, meter and dynamics until it blossomed into an Afro-Caribbean-flavored rhapsody. "A Song for Abdullah," a piano-flute duet dedicated to South African jazz pianist Abdullah Ibrahim, quietly revealed Barron's gift for composing ballads that radiate a soulful lyricism.
The band went on to explore pop and jazz standards, including an encore performance of "Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise" that recalled Barron's inspired collaborations with the late saxophonist Stan Getz. The frequently shifting moods allowed plenty of space for Barron's band mates to shine. Yet the pianist himself was a constant delight, whether producing subtle arpeggio figures and harmonic substitutions, devising swift chromatic runs and intricate filigree, or hammering away at resounding block chords.
-- Mike Joyce