Frank Kimbrough – Meantime
(Newvelle Records NV001LP. LP review by Geoff Winston)
Pianist Frank Kimbrough is the musician’s musician. New York-based, his is a low profile, but those in the know can’t speak highly enough of him. He’s been associated with Maria Schneider’s groups for over twenty years, now, and played with her orchestra on their track on David Bowie’s Blackstar. Quoted in an INTERVIEW she said of him, “Sometimes he’ll finish an introduction and I’ll think I don’t even want to hear my music after that …”. Amongst many other ventures, he has also performed in duets with Paul Bley (one of his great heroes), Lee Konitz and Joe Locke and has been instrumental in the Herbie Nichols Project.
Kimbrough is venerated by young musicians who have fallen under his spell as one of the most influential teachers at NYU and currently at Juilliard. It was as a student at NYU that Newvelle’s co-founder, Elan Mehler first met Kimbrough. When he got the green light to launch the quality-driven subscription label, Kimbrough was the natural choice to record the first of its vinyl-only releases.
Kimbrough chose his co-musicians with great care. Andrew Zimmerman on tenor sax and bassist Chris Van Voorst Van Beest are perfectionists with roots that straddle the classical and jazz worlds, equally at home with composition, teaching and performance. Drummer R J Miller is fastidious on detail, looks out for the interesting options and has been exploring ambient electronica in combination with percussion, while trumpeter Riley Mulherkar, with a range that stretches from Lee Morgan to Harry ‘Sweets’ Edison, has garnered praise and awards, was picked out by Wynton Marsalis as a ‘rising jazz artist’ and is a founder of the adventurous brass ensemble, The Westerlies.
Cross those credentials with Newvelle’s top of the range recording criteria which, in the expert hands and ears of Marc Uselli, follow the spirit of Rudy Van Gelder’s achievements with Blue Note, Impulse and Prestige, making a point of articulating the percussion and bass elements and bringing out the individual voices of each instrument – and you have the recipe for an album with serious jazz audiophile appeal.
The key that unlocks this album is the way that Kimbrough guides and shapes each number – he rarely takes the lead, he lets the others blossom while he nails down the structure, firmly but with a light touch, and then takes off beautifully on occasional solo spells. To quote Schneider again, “He wraps himself around each soloist and takes care to go in the direction they’re going and is really supportive.”
Recorded over a rainy weekend in December 2014, the selection describes a broad palette pitching the bright, bouncing township feel of the title track, Meantime, with the melancholy breeze running through Elegy for P. M. (assumed to be dedicated to Paul Motian, whom he greatly admired and included on an earlier trio recording) and features quirkily offbeat percussion interventions from Miller. These and the funky Laughing at Gravity, with its in-the-room ‘live’ feel, were “sketched out in half an hour of inspiration … [on] a late night in November,” recounts Mehler .
Three standards sit well with Kimbrough’s own compositions. A slow-burning take on Weil’s Alabama Song, a counter to the lively John Lewis-Eric Dolphy version; classic 60s/70s brassy riffing on his friend Andrew Hill’s Laverne, and a softly phrased Last Night When We Were Young, introduced with more than a sense of Bill Evans’ phrasing – and it was seeing Bill Evans on TV as a teenager that was Kimbrough’s epiphany, setting him on the road to a lifetime in jazz, which kind of squares the circle.
The warmth and clarity of the recording and the quiet confidence in the group dynamics set the bar suitably high for this first release from earlier this year in Newvelle’s beautifully packaged series. Those that have followed to date, Jack deJohnette’s Return (reviewed here ) and Noah Preminger’s Some Other Time (reviewed here) have more than lived up to that promise.