JAZZ REVIEW : ‘Tonight’s’ Kirkland Stretches Out at Bel Age

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Kenny Kirkland , the pianist in Branford Marsalis’ “Tonight Show” band, is doing what Ross Tompkins did before him--working the show every afternoon, then taking evening gigs that allow him to play for kicks and stretch out.

The Brasserie at Le Bel Age Hotel, where he appears Wednesday nights, is a hot new jazz room, with name groups Tuesdays through Sundays. Kirkland’s band has fellow Marsalis member Jeff (Tain) Watts on drums, the outstanding Dave Carpenter on bass and percussionist Melina, mainly on congas.

Kirkland’s background with every group from Wynton Marsalis to Sting has provided him with a firm knowledge of a wide range of styles, enabling him to switch from potent single-note lines to harmonically-rich chordal sequences. He was at his most lyrical in “Blame It On My Youth,” a 1934 melody by Oscar Levant, and on “You Don’t Know What Love Is.” On Wayne Shorter’s “Fee Fi Fo Fum,” Kirkland settled into an ingratiating groove.


Watts and Melina are a well-meshed percussion team, though at times they tended to dominate excessively, particularly during Carpenter’s bass solos. The audience responded with fervor to their high-energy workout on “You and the Night and the Music.”

The blues, that most reliable of common denominators, provided the basis for an extended series of solos, using the old Charlie Parker line “Billie’s Bounce” as a point of departure.

Kirkland’s brief but impressive moments on the TV show seemed to have worked wonders for the Brasserie. The room was packed despite heavy rain.