Kenny Barron Trio at the Village Vanguard 12/21/17 (by Keith Szczepanski)

PERSONNEL: Kenny Barron (piano) Kiyoshi Kitagawa (bass) Jonathan Blake (drums)

SET LIST: Embraceable You (Gershwin), New York Attitude (Barron), The Very Thought of You (Noble), What is This Thing Called Love (Porter), Cook’s Bay (Barron)

HIGHLIGHTS: Barron’s lyrical performance on “The Very Thought of You,” a song he added to his book after being inspired by a Hank Jones; Kitagawa’s unaccompanied solo on “New York Attitude.”

The well-paced first set provided space for each member of the trio to show their mastery. Despite fighting a cold, Mr. Barron’s performance was an impressive and educational display of the expertise he has developed over his well-storied career (he asked the audience if folks in warm weather get colds while unwrapping a cough drop between “The Very Thought of You” and “What is This Thing Called Love”). His melodic style was immediately at the front and center of the trio’s performance through his unaccompanied introduction to “Embraceable You” and continued through the set closing “Cook’s Bay.”

For all of Blake’s technical mastery, he never sacrificed swing for showmanship. While trading, exchanges flowed naturally between the piano and the drums, with Barron and Blake picking up on and continuing the other’s rhythmic ideas. Blake’s extended solo on “What is This Thing Called Love” began with the continuation of the mambo-influenced rhythm and developed into a sixteenth note ostinato that stretched across drums and cymbals, never losing the underlying groove over his several choruses.

While the recent release Book of Intuition is a fine album, this trio is at its best when heard live.

— by Keith Szczepanski