Pianist Kenny Barron & Bassist Dave Holland Reunite for First Trio Recording with Drummer Johnathan Blake
“Without Deception” features the two NEA Jazz Masters in an intimate and adventurous conversation with extraordinary drummer Johnathan Blake
Out March 6, 2020 on Dare2 Records
Simpatico. It’s a word that aptly describes the musical relationship and personal friendship shared by pianist Kenny Barron and bassist Dave Holland. Easy going, similarly directed, the two icons pick up where they left off five years after their acclaimed duo outing, The Art of Conversation. This time, the legends continue the dialogue with the inventive drummer Johnathan Blake adding his modern versatility to the mix.
Without Deception, due out March 6th via Dare2 Records, reveals a compatibility between musicians who speak openly and completely amongst themselves and we the listener get to feel as if we were a member of the band. It expands on the kinetic discoveries made whenever Barron and Holland would perform together and in the spirit of “what if” they invited Blake, a veteran of Barron’s trio and an emerging leader on his own, to share the journey. The intimate and adventurous album features the three consummate artists exploring an expertly chosen selection of original compositions alongside those of their inspirations.
The attraction of playing in such a pared-down setting with collaborators like these, according to Holland, is “the humanity in it, of course. It’s the person that’s at the bottom of the whole thing, the feeling that they create in their music and the way they embrace the collaborative atmosphere.”
“I just love playing with Dave,” Barron adds. “He’s very interactive, and the groove always feels good. Johnathan’s a very exciting drummer, and never overbearing. It makes for a great conversation.”
Drawn from a burly new piece contributed by Barron, the title of Without Deception captures the stark honesty and deceptive simplicity of the dialogue between Barron’s fleet, sensitive piano and Holland’s muscular yet nimble bass, gilded by Blake’s deft rhythmic touch.
The phrase was inspired by a social media post by a friend of Barron’s, which presented an unadorned self-portrait, “without make-up, without deception.” The pianist was instantly struck by the coinage, which seemed to fit his alternately steely and ebullient composition. When he shared it with Holland, the bassist suggested that it would make an ideal title for the album.
“We’re living at a time where we’re questioning what truth is,” Holland explains. “But I also think this music has an honesty to it. There’s no pretense; we’re just three musicians having fun, playing music together, bringing what we have to the creative event and sharing it. What you see is what you get – that’s the truth of it.”
Truth, certainly, but an understated one given the credentials of the three musicians in question. Separated in age by only three years, the two leaders – both honored as NEA Jazz Masters – represent an impressive spectrum of jazz history between them. The Philadelphia-born Barron earned worldwide renown for his lyrical piano style with Dizzy Gillespie, Yusef Lateef and Stan Getz and later collaborations with Ron Carter, Buster Williams, Charlie Haden and Regina Carter. As a band leader, the pianist has made nearly 75 recordings, earning eleven GRAMMY™ nominations along the way.
Holland, already a notable bassist in England, came to prominence in groundbreaking groups led by Miles Davis, Stan Getz, Sam Rivers, Betty Carter and has collaborated with Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Jack DeJohnette, Anthony Braxton, John McLaughlin and Zakir Hussain. He appears on hundreds of recordings including over 50 with his own bands, earning three GRAMMY Awards and eleven nominations.
While the pair crossed paths often throughout their early years, they finally enjoyed the opportunity to record together for the first time in 1985, on Barron’s exhilarating trio album Scratch. They reconvened in 2012 for a series of duo performances in Europe and the U.S. that culminated in the release of the acclaimed duo album The Art of Conversation, which JazzTimes praised for showcasing “the profound mastery of two artists who share an easy rapport and elegantly restrained expressiveness.”
Those facets are luminously on display throughout Without Deception, which deepens the empathetic communication via the presence of Blake, a fellow Philadelphian that has worked extensively with Barron for more than a decade. His work with the Mingus Big Band earned two GRAMMY nominations and his own recent stellar album Trion, an expansive trio excursion with Chris Potter and Linda May Han Oh, landed the drummer on numerous lists of 2019’s best new albums.
“Having Johnathan there opened up some new possibilities,” Holland says. It’s a bit complicated to talk about because there are a lot of dynamics involved, but as a bass player, sharing the rhythmic and structural responsibilities with Johnathan was like having a big, soft cushion to land on. It was a very nice feeling.”
The combination of easy, relaxed rapport and highly attuned reactiveness is vividly evident from the first notes of “Porto Alegre,” the Barron bossa nova that opens the album. A delicate mystery pervades “Second Thoughts,” a favorite by the late Mulgrew Miller, a longtime friend and duo partner of the pianist’s. “He used to scare me to death every time we played,” Barron says of Miller. “He was an unbelievable player, and he was also a great human being.”
The title track is followed by another pair of Barron originals, the wistful “Until Then” and the blistering “Speed Trap,” built upon the foundation of Holland’s dauntless walking bass. “Secret Places” is a composition by Barron protégé Sumi Tonooka, from an album the pianist originally recorded for Barron’s own Joken label. Holland’s “Pass It On” is a reprise of the buoyant title track from his 2008 sextet release, while “I Remember When” is an alluring new showcasing Blake’s gift for combining a light touch with a taut, romantic tension.
Duke Ellington’s “Warm Valley” sees the trio subtly shifting between a variety of moods and colors, while Thelonious Monk’s “Worry Later” closes the proceedings on a spirited note. The vinyl edition of the album adds a pair of bonus tracks: a Blake composition entitled “Can Tomorrow Be Brighter,” and “Mabel,” a piece by longtime Holland compatriot Kenny Wheeler.
With the gentle profundity of close friends reprising a long-running conversation, the three exquisitely explore the nuances and possibilities to be discovered in these pieces. The results are at once captivating and celebratory, akin to eavesdropping as heartfelt revelations alternate with raucous, good-natured humor. With affection, with respect, with reverence. Without deception.