Frank Kimbrough Quartet – Palmetto Records

Frank Kimbrough Quartet – Palmetto Records, 57:15 ****:

(Frank Kimbrough – piano; Steve Wilson – alto and soprano saxophones; Jay Anderson – doublebass; Lewis Nash – drums)

In the uber-competitive landscape in which jazz pianists reside, there is always some up and coming player who might become the ‘flavour du jour’. Frank Kimbrough has been living in that world for over thirty years but has managed to more than keep his own place to become a pianist of vision and invention. In this current release Frank Kimbrough Quartet, by moving away from his usual trio format  and adding alto and soprano saxophonist Steve Wilson to the mix, Kimbrough continues on his voyage of  insightful self-discovery.

Any attempt to define Kimbrough’s originality presents several challenges as his approach to the music is sometimes quixotic and often opaque. That does not mean it is not approachable, but rather that it requires some effort on the part of the listener. In a session that is mostly framed by Kimbrough originals, the album opens with “The Call” in which Kimbrough in the liner notes suggests is “an invocation, a call to listen”. Thus the challenge has been issued to hear not just what’s being played, but also to the spacing and unstructured improvisation that permeates the work from all the players. This approach is the modus operandi for “Blue Smoke” with the startling interplay between Kimbrough and Wilson through both changes in harmonic form and time signatures.

“Trouble Man” was written by Kurt Weill for the short-lived Broadway musical Lost In The Stars which was based on the Alan Paton novel about South Africa entitled Cry, The Beloved Country. The version offered here is a lovely thoughtful interpretation with the trio covering the verse followed by Wilson’s introspective take on the chorus. Although “Beginning” had previously been recorded by Kimbrough on a release entitled Play which featured drummer Paul Motian, it comes together here in subtle fashion with the soprano sax of Steve Wilson adding another dimension of warm sound that fills out the piece.

John Lewis wrote “Afternoon In Paris” in 1955 and recorded it in 1957 with French guitarist Sacha Distel. Here the band gives a lilting version with lots of dips, bops, and weaves that captures the frenzy that is Paris traffic and the hubbub on the Champs Elyseé. Bassist Jay Anderson offers a strong solo and is generally a force throughout the composition. The closer is that Rodgers and Hart standard “It Never Entered My Mind” from their 1940 musical Higher And Higher. With Steve Wilson’s soprano sax leading the way, the band delivers a stylishly empathetic rendition which showcases the lyricism and understanding they have of the material.

Throughout the session, Kimbrough demonstrates his meticulous connection with the music, and along his cohorts looks for those surprising relationships that make this a most interesting offering.   

TrackList: The Call; Blue Smoke; November; Kudzu; Trouble Man; Herbivore; Ode; Beginning; Afternoon In Paris; It Never Entered My Mind

—Pierre Giroux

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