Consistency has been the hallmark of Kenny Barron, and his latest album, “Spirit Song,” may well be the springboard that gets him recognition beyond being a pianist’s pianist. Most important, he is touring with almost all of his quintet from the recording, and the brave spirit that defines the disc, the best of the six he has recorded for Verve, spills over into the concert arena.
Barron arrived as a pianist at a precarious time for jazz — the early 1970s — and he has worked a steady path that includes stints as an educator and as Stan Getz’s accompanist. (Their duets album, “People Time,” is still a gem of a record.) He has always shown a solid allegiance to the Thelonious Monk and the mellow Detroit school of pianistics, yet “Spirit Song” is a rambunctious ode to the music of his hometown of Philadelphia, where the likes of John Coltrane gave jazz a much more jagged shape.
In Tuesday’s late set, it was a piano trio version of “Body and Soul” that was defiantly explosive and awe-inspiring. He treated the standard to a joy ride that had Rufus Reid — whose standing among bassists is akin to Barron’s among keyboardists — enjoying the wind in his face and voicing an air of caution. Billy Hart’s drumming kept it all in line.
Barron and band wheeled out three tunes from the new disc and in each, there was a distinct balance of power between the vets in the rhythm section and the young charges on the frontline. Saxophonist David Sanchez, a fine bandleader in his own right with four Columbia CDs under his belt, made the strongest impression, all the while holding back to allow interplay and the leader to shine brightest.
Trumpeter Terrell Strafford, who replaces Eddie Henderson from the album, demonstrated a burnished and arching tone that always suggested a bit of anguish. Their roles provided room for Barron and Reid — whose bass playing consistently avoids obvious patterns and is among the most modern of approaches to the instrument — to fully explore the compositions and give an exhilarating overview to what is one of the best working bands in jazz today.
Barron will lead this quintet March 28 through April 2 at Gotham’s Sweet Basil; from April 4-9 at the same venue, he will lead a Brazilian band.