Another day, another piano trio. The thought could send a reviewer running for cover. It's such a conventional and commonplace format that reviewing yet another one could be a major challenge. How to differentiate? How to assess in context of all the others that came before? In the case of pianist Frank Kimbrough, the criteria have to include honesty, optimism and a direct perspective that leaves nothing unclear. Lullabluebye may not shake the foundations of musical evolution, but it is a captivating listen that brings together three familiar musicians in Kimbrough, bassist Ben Allison and drummer Matt Wilson, fine players all.
Kimbrough professes the objective of writing as little as possible, allowing the musicians free reign to do what they do best. Of course such a philosophy only works when the players are of such a high calibre, and possess such a strong degree of empathy, that they are capable of liberating the music from the written page, creating something deeper, more profound. Allison and Wilson are clearly skilled improvisers with histories that have crossed paths with Kimbrough more than once in the past. They take naive, almost pastoral themes like "Kid Stuff" and imbue them with rich meaning.
While Kimbrough's roots are far-reaching, the primary source for this set seems to be Keith Jarrett and, in particular, his European Quartet of the '70s. The same countrified flavour informs "Kid Stuff" and, oddly, his interpretation of the theme from "You Only Live Twice"; the same quirky sense of time and freedom-within-a-structured-motif of "Whirl" and "Ode"; and the dark impressionism of "Ghost Dance." Clear though the influence is, Kimbrough brings a lithe elegance to the music that is less relentless, less emotionally intense than Jarrett.
Simple ideas dominate the set although, reading Kimbrough's notes about the material, there are more considered, thought-out concepts that underlay the apparent ease with which the material is presented. But one quickly forgets about things like structure and context when listening to Lullabluebye ; what is immediately striking about the record is how well Kimbrough, Allison and Wilson communicate , while there is an improvisational looseness there is also a constant push-and-pull, a tension and release that makes for many moments of pure magic.