For more than ten years, pianist Frank Kimbrough and bassist Ben Allison have collaborated on numerous projects of the Jazz Composers Collective and their own. Despite their frequent appearances together, the two have different approaches as composers and leaders.
On Lullabluebye, Kimbrough explores the classic piano trio, infusing it with a modern sensibility and exciting performances from Allison and drummer Matt Wilson. This limited instrumentation, in less capable hands, could result in same-sounding material. But here, the tunes take a variety of forms. The title track, a jaunty blues with a boozy groove, opens the set and provides Kimbrough thematic material for his solo, which shows his light touch and impeccable taste. "Centering" and "Ode" are more traditional trio pieces, featuring slick brush work from Wilson and, in the latter, a solo for Allison.
Up-tempo romps like "Kid Stuff" and "Ben's Tune" show the trio's exuberance. The slowly unfolding, atmospheric "Ghost Dance" is more open in form and the musicians exhibit a delicate touch. The protest song "Fu Bu" also has a freer form based around an angular, rhythmic unison line punctuated with pounding keys. The open spaces allow room for extrapolation, especially Wilson's well placed fills and accents. Kimbrough is, necessarily, the lead melodic voice, and his fine compositions and arrangements draw on his and his sidemen's strengths, presenting a trio record that is both classic and adventurous.
As part of Allison's Medicine Wheel, Kimbrough typically falls in line with the rhythm section of drummer Michael Sarin and Allison. The focus of Buzz is the interlocking horn lines of saxophonists Ted Nash and Michael Blake and trombonist Clark Gayton, in his recorded debut with the group. A repeated Wurlitzer and piano phrase begins "Respiration," setting up the moody unison horn lines, which would sound at home in a classic film noir. The effect is offset by a bluesy break for Kimbrough's solo.
In "Buzz," a reworking of an older Allison tune, Gayton's trombone works over Sarin's skittering drums, as Nash rips into a solo over the tune's quickening pace. Kimbrough's emphatic solo is urged on by the drummer, who finally cuts loose himself. The infectiously simple melody of "Green Al" showcases Blake's lyricism in a long solo over the loping groove. Blake's composition "Mauritania" is an episodic piece that gets a world beat tinge from Nash's flute, before Gayton holds sway without overpowering the tune. His bass trombone on "Across the Universe" adds another color, evocative of Allison's widening compositional palate.
The strength of Allison's and Kimbrough's performances on these divergent projects is testimony to their versatility, their deep musical kinship, and the strength of their individual compositional voices.
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Personnel: Frank Kimbrough (piano), Ben Allison (bass), and Matt Wilson (drums)
Tracks: Lullabluebye; Centering; Kid Stuff; Ode; Whirl; Ghost Dance; You Only Live Twice; Fu Bu; Ben's Tune; Eventualities
Personnel: Ben Allison, Bass; Michael Blake, Tenor & Soprano Saxophones; Ted Nash, Tenor Saxophone, Flute; Clark Gayton, Trombone, Bass Trombone; Frank Kimbrough, Piano, Wurlitzer, Prepared Piano; Michael Sarin, Drums.
Tracks: 1. Respiration 2. Buzz 3. Green Al 4. Mauritania 5. Erato 6. R&B Fantasy 7. Across the Universe