April 4, 1996 Bradley's NYC
All Music Guide
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"Hi! Everybody, I'm home!" read the caption of the framed drawing of the New Yorker cartoon that hung at the end of the bar where you entered Bradley's, the legendary Greenwich Village room that was the venue for this historic recording. The sketch depicting a smiling traveller putting down his suitcases and waving hello to the bartender and patrons in a very familiar looking tavern was signed by its author with the inscription "To Bradley's. 'Home' to me." For more than 25 years Bradley's, at 70 University Place, in New York, was "home" to the city's jazz community. The neighborhood bar that musicians went to for a drink after work, whether they were working uptown, downtown, or out of town. Ironically, Frank Modell's humorous cartoon accurately described the place where it was hanging, for it was not uncommon to encounter there some musician carrying his bags, who had come directly from the airport after having played in Europe, Japan, Chicago or California. More often than not, the musician was one of the many great pianists who performed regularly on the Baldwin grand piano so graciously willed by alto saxophonist Paul Desmond to his friend Bradley Cunningham's club.
Bradley was a talented "dilettante piano player" (to use his own words), and Bradley's was the piano players' place, a most hospitable environment where the music flowed freely into the wee hours every night. The very best keyboardists congregated there to perform, encouraged by the presence of their peers in the audience.
Kenny Barren, Bruce Barth, Andy Bey, Richie Beirach, Walter Bishop, Jr., Joanne Brackeen, Donald Brown, Ray Bryant, Jaki Byard, George Cables, Marc Gary, Freddy Cole, Walter Davis, Jr., Dorothy Donegan, Tommy Flanagan, Benny Green, Sir Roland Hanna, Barry Harris, Fred Hersch, John Hicks, Bertha Hope, Hank Jones, Geoff Keezer, Kenny Kirkland, Roger Kellaway, Hugh Lawson, Kirk Lightsey, Harold Mabern, Ronnie Mathews, Brad Meldhau, Mulgrew Miller, Johnny O'Neal, Michel Petrucciani, Eric Reed, Renee Rosnes, Jimmy Rowles, Hilton Ruiz, Stephen Scott, Charles Thomas, Cedar Walton, Michael Weiss, James Williams and Larry Willis were just some of the many regulars.
Teddy Wilson, one of the progenitors of the genre made a rare New York engagement in the club towards the end of his career. And Thelonious Monk played his last "public" performance there, sitting in one night when the Baroness Nica de Koenigswater brought him down to Barry Harris's gig. in short, Bradley's was a special place that played an important roie in the development of jazz piano. The room had a history and spirit that inspired superior sets like the one heard on this disc.
Kenny Barron is one the most important of the Bradley's players, both for the great quality of his performances there and their frequency. The pianist's familiarity with the room comes through in the relaxed sensation his playing exudes even during the most exuberant exhibitionist expressions of virtuosity. On the slower numbers one can feel the intimacy and warmth that existed within the dark wood paneled walls of the charming and romantic room that is no more.
For this engagement Kenny was joined by two of his most trusted collaborators. Bassist Ray Drummond is one of the busiest musicians in jazz. Ray was a regular performer at Bradley's, having worked there with many of the pianists listed above. His beautiful tone, impeccable time, imposing command of harmony and impressive knowledge of the jazz repertoire were particularly important in the duo settingthat was prevalent in the room.
Drummers were not always permitted to perform in Bradley's. Even after the repeal of the city's archaic cabaret law opened the door for percussionists to play the club, not all were able to blend well with the room's warm sound. Few fit in as well as Ben Riley, whose melodic style accentuates the dynamic diversity of the drum kit, perfectly exemplifying the principle that one doesn't have to play loud to swing hard.
The program selected by Barron for this disc nicely represents the continuum of the jazz piano repertory. The set starts off in Tin Pan Alley with the Jack Palmer / Spencer Williams classic Everybody Loves My Baby Kenny begins with a slow Tatumesque solo statement of the melody before breaking into a medium tempo bounce accompanied by Ray's bass and Ben's brushes. The pianist stretches out impressively with a multi climatic outing that alternates melodic and harmonic improvisation. Ray's solo is swinging and tasteful as are the choruses Ben trades with Kenny before the leader takes it out alluding stylistically to both Ahmad Jamal and Count Baste.
The trio smokes all through Miles Davis's Solar. This is hot bebop at its best. Kenny's fired up on this one, prodded by Ben's insistent stick work and Ray's fast walking bass. The piano's dancing latinish vamp in the out chorus is an inspired frolic.
Richard Rodgers's and Lorenz Hart's Blue Moon is one of the most beautiful compositions in the great American songbook, the only collaboration by the pair that was published as a popular song and not as part of a play or film's musical score. Oscar Hammerstein II described Rodgers's melodies as "clean and well defined... logically allied to the stories and characters they describe." The trio's interpretation of his melody perfectly expresses the lyric's melancholy sentiment without becoming overly sentimental or melancholic.
Bradley's was a place where pianists often picked up compositions by the other pianists who played there, so it was not uncommon there to hear Larry Willis playing a John Hicks song or John Hicks playing a Kenny Barron tune. Here we have Kenny Barron playing James Williams' Alter Ego, a romantic composition Williams originally recorded as the title track of his first Sunnyside record.
Eddie Heywood's Canadian Sunset is probably (along with Ahmad Jamal's Poinciana) one of the most recognized tunes associated with jazz piano. The interplay by the members of the group is exemplary of the expressive possibilities inherent in the trio style when each individual is an intuitive improvisor.
The set concludes with a brief statement of the customary theme that signaled the end of most sets at Bradley's and Kenny's announcement to the audience that the group had been recording. At the time of the date few could have imagined that one day Bradley's would be gone and that this disc would be about all that is left of the great music that was heard there. So now that it's finally out, take Kenny's advice and get down to your record and "dust one off."
- Russ Musto