Bill Barron: Modern Windows

Typical of its time, but overlooked, Barron's 1961 album attempted to move things along by using advanced chords and irregular harmonic rhythm


Although he was a contemporary of Rollins and Coltrane, Bill Barron never found any of the fame and appreciation that those two did. His younger brother was Kenny Barron, who appeared as pianist on all Bill’s albums. There weren’t many. He worked in bands lead by Cecil Taylor, Charles Mingus and recorded with Philly Joe Jones but ended his short- lived career as an educator at City College, NYC and Wesleyan University.

Modern Windows was his second album for Savoy Records, and he was trying to produce something fresh and unhackneyed. Subtitled “A jazz suite from the new soul” it is a collection of eight “reflections” that he described as “one long tune divided into sections principally by changes in tempo”. Barron sought to give his soloists and himself more freedom by avoiding the routine II-V progression, which is part of the modern jazz harmonic landscape, as described by sleeve-note writer Tom Wilson. He also used unusual chord durations that in 1961, when this record was taped, would have sounded quite uneven. Barron though, was trying to inject something fresh and original into his music.

Men At Work, the first track, kicks off with Barron’s odd-sounding chords echoed by trumpeter Ted Curson and baritone saxist Jay Cameron. All three sound comfortable and inventive in the new styling, though. Barron was an interesting improviser and his solos, while complex, sound logical given the context he was working in. Kenny Barron, Eddie Kahn on bass and drummer Pete La Roca adapt to the leader’s requirements well enough. Mind you, there are a few moments when the listener is reminded of the classic sketch where André Previn says “You are playing all the wrong notes” and Eric Morecambe replies “I am playing all the right notes, but not necessarily in the right order.” Tone Colours follows and both Barron and Curson invent solos made up of short phrases as Kenny Barron struggles to accompany. Listen here carefully to Barron’s approach to the blues.

Although Bill Barron’s music didn’t attract critical acclaim and he was underrated through his working life, this can be regarded as a bold experiment typical of the late 50s and early 60s period when jazz players were consciously seeking new paths. This release is a limited edition of just 550 copies so ought to swiftly become a collector’s item.

(1) 1st Reflection: Men At Work; 2nd Reflection: Tone Colors; 3rd Reflection: Dedication To Wanda; 4th Reflection: Keystone (24.52) – 1st Reflection: Noodlin’; 2nd Reflection: Duality; 3rd Reflection: Self Portrait; 4th Reflection: Persian Street Scene; (2) A Cool One (26.12)
(1) Barron (ts); Ted Curson (t); Jay Cameron (bar); Kenny Barron (p); Eddie Kahn (b); Pete La Roca (d). New Jersey, 5 June 1961.
(2) Barron, Booker Ervin (ts); Kenny Barron (p); Larry Ridley (b); Andrew Cyrille (d). New Jersey, 31 March 1962.
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