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Spotlight Project: Frank Kimbrough Quartet
A genuine artist follows the strict demands of his muse rather than any set of conventional expectations. If, thirty-plus years into his celebrated career, the pianist and composer Frank Kimbrough decided to record his first album featuring the traditional jazz instrumentation of piano, horn, bass, and drums, there had to be a good reason. Quartet (Palmetto Records, PM2173), featuring alto and soprano saxophonist Steve Wilson, drummer Lewis Nash and bassist Jay Anderson, proves that for a relentlessly creative musician such as Kimbrough, following one’s instincts offers up the best results. Despite the surface familiarity of its ensemble format, Quartet (Kimbrough’s 12th album as a leader and 7th for Palmetto) displays the pianist and his handpicked team at their most adventurous, creating music that revels in improvisational freedom while making fruitful use of the still profitable tools of the jazz tradition. Seven characteristically personal Kimbrough originals share space with exceptional reinterpretations of Kurt Weill’s “Trouble Man,” Rodgers and Hart’s “It Never Entered My Mind” and John Lewis’s “Afternoon In Paris.”
The exemplary balance of introspective lyricism and spiky, open form improvising that has marked Kimbrough’s musical approach in his acclaimed work with, among many others, Maria Schneider, Ben Allison, Ted Nash and Noah Preminger, lends Quartet its distinguishing yin/yang atmosphere of ease and daring. “The Call,” “Blue Smoke,” “Kudzu,” “Herbivore” and “Ode” slip, slide and swing, evading strict time and rigid harmonic forms, inspiring telepathic group interplay and biting solos, while the original ballads “November” and “Beginning” offer stunningly unpredictable melodic statements from Kimbrough and Wilson and sensitively prodding support from Nash and Anderson. And while “It Never Entered My Mind” and “Trouble Man” demonstrate that Kimbrough and company admire the exquisite compositional architecture of the masters, the quartet’s take on “Afternoon In Paris” offers up a loose and stimulating deconstruction of John Lewis’s standard. As Kimbrough devotees might note, “Ode” previously appeared on his Lullabluebye album, while “Beginning” debuted on Play, which featured the iconic drummer Paul Motian. “Herbivore” was written in the 1990s for Kimbrough’s Noumena band but went unheard until this recording.
Kimbrough’s exceptional playing throughout Quartet fully demonstrates the maturity of a seasoned musician who, having fully assimilated such signal influences as Paul Bley, Andrew Hill and Shirley Horn, is able to express himself organically in his own, now distinctive, instrumental voice. “As I’ve grown over the years, I find that I want to move listeners, not impress them,” Kimbrough states. “By now the piano is who I am. I don’t want technique to be a liability – I want to be able to convey what’s in the moment. To be honest, to be vulnerable in my playing is what I’m most interested in.”
“I chose the musicians on this recording because I trust their judgment. From the first note they play you can feel the depth, the lyricism, the respect for musical space they all have. Between us there’s over two hundred years of experience – you have to trust that. I’ve found as a leader that the more freedom you give players to be themselves, the more of themselves they will put into the music.”
The roots of Quartet extend back to the late 1970s when Kimbrough and Nash met as students at Arizona State University. Three decades passed until Kimbrough and the now-omnipresent drummer reunited as players in Ryan Truesdell’s Gil Evans Project. Steve Wilson and Jay Anderson – both men A-list jazz figures – also participated as members of that ensemble, continuing associations with Kimbrough that included working together in the acclaimed Maria Schneider Orchestra. As a linchpin in the pianist’s various trios, Anderson has been a close associate of Kimbrough for over twenty years.
Frank Kimbrough has recorded twelve albums as a leader and has co-led recordings with duet partner Joe Locke and with the Herbie Nichols Project. He has appeared on over sixty-five albums with other artists, including Maria Schneider’s 2013 Grammy-winning Winter Morning Walks. Kimbrough has been on the faculty of the Juilliard School of Music since 2008.