Frank Kimbrough


Palmetto Records, USA - CD

      There are still some critics out there, and I have heard them mulling under their breaths and over piles of old LPs and CDs in record shops all over town, who still look in vain for the next Bill Evans, a bit like Parsifal seeking the Holy Grail.  We already know there isn't going to be another Monk, and McCoy Tyner is still around, yishkod Allah, so no go on all that.  But Bill Evans' laser-beam melodic sense, his river-deep romantic sweep, and an ability to make anything (including "Emily" and "Alfie" - wha?) well nigh worthy of Rachmaninoff was, let's say, a classic combination.  And still much sought after.  He was never one of my favorites, but neither would I bother listening to 95% of the other pianists out there taking a shot at "The Theme From M*A*S*H."      But Frank Kimbrough I might, if not for the same reasons. Former NYU music prof,  occasionally seen giving master classes at The New School, Oberlin, the U. of Iowa, Oxford U. and yet more, Kimbrough is not the next Bill Evans, let's be clear.  He has a far broader technical gift and a playfully diverse sense of melodic construction.  Overall I flash more on Keith Jarrett or Richard Beirach; do note the bluesy-but-not title tune, built on an enticingly incomplete blues progression but with a far more chromatic palette and pert near no other accoutrements.  You'll smirk and you'll like it.  Ben Allison (bass) and Matt Wilson,  the latter of whom did a very surprising, wild CD under his own name on Palmetto not long back, give the most Evansesque similarities hereupon since they offer careful, elastic support and do not get in the way.  Yet the trio remain their own men: "Kid Stuff," a cheery theme composed in seeming blocks, each of which nick off the central chords at a different trajectory,  allows Allison to step up and pluck a break in which he too surrounds the root notes and keeps pulling away from them, again in varying directions.  The theme, a nice little melody with a decided emotional hook, is another one I keep coming back to on this CD.     Of course, I couldn't avoid the trio's go at John Barry's "You Only Live Twice," and was not disappointed.  Kimbrough slices up the song into melodic chunks, letting each breathe in the tide of its fellows (not like Monk, though; had he ever tried out "You Only," we might have had to listen to it 3 or 4 times before we knew what it was), to say nothing of the spaces between the notes.  Unlike Jarrett in his "play-a-note-and-let-it-ring" phase, Kimbrough is a virtuoso of 'rests.' Might be a way of editing himself, as he does aim towards a plethora of grace notes now and again (viz. the very fine "Ben's Tune," the Allison original on board) never quite allowing himself the pleasure.  Butany number of Jazz wits have reminded us all too often that it's what you don't play that can save the performance.Something else these three know innately!  "Whirl" might have been a bluesy barnburner, but again the tune's phrases have been separated in such a way as to cause a pleasant dizziness to the listener.  Wilson, always the soulof articulation, goes to pretty much the cymbals onlythroughout Allison's chaotic break and a rather singular statement from Kimbrough in which one could swear he'sreversed the chords of the song just for the benefit of his solo.  Finally Wilson throws in the skins as well as Kimbrough starts getting into the chordal elements themselves as if to warn him soon he's going to hit the wall.No fear and no bruises on any foreheads; Kimbrough turns the corner back into the melody as agilely as Bugs Bunny in a Warner Brothers cartoon (no, not the one from 1943 with the gremlin).     And if ballads are your thing, Kimbrough does them too:his "Ghost Dance" and "Eventualities" certainly have theirgentle sense of repose, but these performances are crystal clear from top to bottom.  No tearjerking, no grace notes to muddy the water and make it bathos.  Here is another similarity he does have with Jarrett, if not Evans: technique often carries the day more than sentiment.  Ain't like we haven't had sentiment coming out of our ears, and no unmentioned culprits will be, either.     So try this band.  Subtle as all get-out, and anoriginal. 

by Kenneth Egbert

Jazz Now Interactive July 2004 Vol 14 No. 3 - Table of Contents