Sometimes in this town, you need to brave the tourist hordes to get to the really good stuff. Case in point: last night's early set at the Village Vanguard, the legendary basement space on 7th Ave South, whose tiny trapezoidal stage has hosted many of the greatest names in jazz for the past 70-plus years. The place was packed, but my friend Josh and I were able to squeeze into a tiny table between two out-of-town families, not far from the stage. An elderly woman brought us drinks; it was dark, dingy and damned-near perfect.
This week, the Vanguard is hosting piano master Kenny Barron and his far-flung quartet, including Bay Area tenor Dayna Stephens, Japanese bassist Kiyoshi Kitagawa, and Cuban drummer Francisco Mela. There's nothing revolutionary or edgy about what Barron does: he just takes great standards (as well as one original, "Um Beijo") and plays the hell out of them. And, he does it all from his head: the only paper I saw on his piano was a list of some thirty possible numbers, of which the group played five in a set lasting just over an hour.
I learned today that the show was broadcast on the website of local jazz station WBGO, part of a regular series with NPR; you can listen to the entire set here. But, do yourself a favor and go check out the Vanguard in person sometime: it's worth the money and the tight quarters. (More pics after the jump.)