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Frank Kimbrough: Solstice

Mark Sullivan By

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Pianist/composer Frank Kimbrough presents a trio album with only one of his originals, a reversal of his usual approach. He was a student of the late Paul Bley, and although there is no formal dedication the program has an air of homage about it. Kimbrough first heard three of the selections played by Bley's mid-60's trio. This group with bassist Jay Anderson and drummer Jeff Hirshfield has a similar adventurous, open spirit. There are also nods to drummer Paul Motian (a former playing partner), vocalist/pianist Shirley Horn, composer/pianist Andrew Hill, and composer Maria Schneider.

Carla Bley's "Seven" opens the set, an airy, conversational performance that sets the stage perfectly, at the same time calling back to the Paul Bley trio performances that animated it. Shirley Horn was an early friend and mentor, and her live recording of Gershwin's "Here Come the Honey Man" (from Porgy and Bess) inspired Kimbrough's version, which shares its graceful sense of space. The title tune comes from the pen of Maryanne de Prophetis, Kimbrough's life partner. It inspires an especially lyrical bass solo from Anderson.

Paul Motian's "The Sunflower" first appeared on Le Voyage (ECM, 1979), and he revisited it many times. It is an appropriate vehicle for a gentle drum solo from Hirshfield. "Question's the Answer" (as in "the question IS the answer") is Kimbrough's only original. He says it has "a strong connection to the blues." It certainly is a bit too abstract for a traditional blues, but it bears a family resemblance to similar Ornette Coleman tunes like "Turnaround" and "When Will the Blues Leave?."

Kimbrough met Andrew Hill around the same time he began studying with Paul Bley, and also considers him a mentor. So Hill's "From California with Love" (composed in the 70s) again comes from a personal connection. Maria Schneider's "Walking by Flashlight" was originally recorded on Winter Morning Walks (ArtistShare, 2013) with Kimbrough on piano and Anderson on bass. The recording featured soprano Dawn Upshaw and an orchestra, but the trio arrangement beautifully captures the heart of the song. Kimbrough has been playing in Schneider's orchestra since 1993, so his deep understanding of her music should come as no surprise, but he really does her proud here.

These three musicians have a long history together, but this is the first time they played together as a trio. Kimbrough says that his trio mates did not see the music until the session: "There was almost no discussion and no rehearsal—we simply began to play." The results completely justify that approach. Here's hoping we hear from them again.

Track Listing: Seven; Here Come The Honey Man; Solstice; The Sunflower; Albert's Love Theme; Question's The Answer; From California With Love; El Cordobes; Walking By Flashlight.

Personnel: Frank Kimbrough: piano; Jay Anderson: bass; Jeff Hirshfield: drums.

Title: Solstice | Year Released: 2016 | Record Label: Pirouet Records

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