Frank Kimbrough ‘Solstice’ (Pirouette) 5/5

As with many contemporary jazz pianists, the American Frank Kimbrough has drunk deeply at the well of pianist Bill Evans. But there is much more to this multi-faceted musician. Discernible influences are wide-ranging and include Keith Jarrett, Paul Bley and even Herbie Nichols, not to forget Thelonious Monk. He released his first CD in 1988. He now has some twenty-three albums to his name as leader or co-leader and numerous albums with others, in particular, no less than eight with the magnificent Maria Schneider Jazz Orchestra. Oddly, for such a prolific recording artist, he has remained somewhat below the radar and is certainly not a household name, at least not here in the U.K.
Kimbrough has been active on the New York jazz scene for some thirty-five years. This is his debut recording for the Pirouet label and his first with this particular trio. Alongside the pianist, we have Jay Anderson on double-bass and drummer Jeff Hirshfield.
Kimbrough says that “The piano trio has always been my favourite way of expressing myself. The looseness of the format allows for spontaneous music-making, so that every performance is a new experience”.
Although he can swing with the best of them, Kimbrough often takes a more passive approach, allowing the music to evolve naturally and accepting and reacting to the contributions of his band-mates. His music often sounds elegantly deceptively simple.

The repertoire for this album is somewhat unusual. It includes only one of his own compositions, preferring to focus on some lesser-known compositions of other writers.

He sets out his stall with a Carla Bley composition ‘Seven’ and it is here that thoughts of Paul Bley, Kimbrough’s former teacher, are evoked. ‘Here Come the Honey Man’, from Porgy and Bess follows in lithe form. The title track, for once not written by an established jazz composer but by the pianist’s partner, brings forth a very lyrical bass solo from this sometimes under-appreciated musician. ‘The Sunflower’ gives the opportunity for Hirshfield to provide a laid back solo on the Paul Motian tune.

‘From California with Love’, a delightful composition from one of Kimbrough’s mentors, Andrew Hill, gets a welcome airing.
I mentioned Kimbrough’s relationship with Maria Schneider, an association which stretches back some twenty-three years and so it should come as no surprise that he includes one of her compositions, ‘Walking by Flashlight’. This, for me, is the undoubted highlight of the album – melodic and tuneful.

Everything is on display here, from elegant ruminations to delicate swing to more abstract ruminations and yet through it all the trio breathe as one. Although this is their first recording as a trio, the participants have worked independently in different musical situations and so are familiar with how each thinks. On the surface, one may think that this is just another conventional jazz trio, but listen closely and it soon becomes clear that it is much more than that.

The subtle pleasure of this album may not necessarily be appreciated on first listening, but it is one to return to time and time again to understand where Kimbrough is coming from.

Alan Musson