Jazz Musicians Unite in One Goal: Celebrating Frank Kimbrough

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A few months ago, some of New York’s best jazz musicians could be found as if they were walking in and out of a Lower East Side recording studio, as the long, lean period of the pandemic recession was just beginning to open up to new possibilities. a revolving door. At one point, a few, including saxophonist Donny McCaslin, trumpeter Ron Horton, and pianist Craig Taborn, were plunged into a sad composition entitled “Rebirth,” which gave all the supple dynamism of a banner waving in the breeze.

On one wall of the studio was a framed photograph of the song’s composer, pianist Frank Kimbrough. died suddenly At the end of last year, he is 64 years old. His sly smile in the portrait, expressing benevolent skepticism, fit well with the ongoing project: an elaborate tribute to some 60 of his works has been commented on by more than 65 colleagues, including the former. students and distinguished friends. This ambitious release, which equals over five and a half hours of music, available on friday usually from Newvelle Records digitally and on streaming services focuses exclusively on on premium vinyl.

In a musical landscape defined by relationships, Kimbrough has worked as both a connector and an outlier. “He only had 360-degree vision and had a completely open mind on the scene,” said alto saxophonist Immanuel Wilkins, who attended the sessions. “Those who knew him really liked him,” he added, “but even among musicians there are many who do not know his name.”

A grand gesture on behalf of an under-recognized figure, “Kimbrough” seems in some ways the culmination of a lifetime of accumulated goodwill. As a pianist, Kimbrough was prolific and widely acclaimed, but best known for a long tenure with the Maria Schneider Orchestra; his precise, perceptive accompaniment helped shape the group’s impressive sound, including “Data Lords.” top rated jazz album 2020. As an educator, Kimbrough has left a deep legacy of mentorship in the most recent prestigious field. Jazz Studies program At the Juilliard School.

Elan Mehler, a pianist who had worked with him during a previous stint at New York University, founded Newvelle about six years ago and invited Kimbrough to record the opening album. That album,by the way” paired him up with a handful of young players, such as trumpeter Riley Mulherkar, who had just finished mastering at Juilliard. Fittingly, all proceeds from “Kimbrough” will go to the Frank Kimbrough Jazz Scholarship, founded there by his widow, singer Maryanne de Prophetis.

Mehler designed the tribute with a generational ideal in mind, arranging the rotating cast in such a way that virtually no trail has the same staff. “I had multiple spreadsheets color-coded by the musician,” he said during a break from the session. “I’ve never fallen into anything as deeply as I fell into this project. I’d be up until two or three in the morning, just get the bands together and then play the songs on the keyboard with headphones, change it, flip it, and then I’d fall asleep and daydream about it.”

Alongside Mehler and Taborn, pianists on the new set include: Fred HerschIsaiah J. Thompson—who has known Kimbrough as a contemporary, and has him as an instructor—is on the honor list of others, including Gary Versace, Helen Sung, Dan Tepfer, Elio Villafranca, and Jacob Sacks. Like everyone involved in the project, they donated their services, creating not only an enthusiastic tribute but also a snapshot of a unique time of transition.

“This couldn’t have happened if it weren’t for this moment when everyone was finally ready to play music again, but hadn’t been on tour yet,” Mehler said. “It’s crazy to have everyone in the same city.”

As a summary of Kimbrough’s music, the Newvelle album also makes a serious claim to his legacy as a composer – something that somewhat surprised Mehler. He also consulted Prophetis about the material when he first started mapping the project. They asked Horton, an experienced archivist, to compile a book of Kimbrough compositions. He eventually compiled more than 90 of them.

“Frank was modest about his composition,” Horton said during a session break. But those of us who knew him going back 40 years knew that he was very special as a composer.”

A few moments earlier, Horton had made this point with a hymn-like calmness that became a turbulent abstraction while recording a ballad entitled “Noumena.” Guitarist Ben Monder added a prickly vibe with pedal effects where Horton and McCaslin pushed the melody up and down. His performances were a vivid expression of Kimbrough’s original design – charged with a spirit of freedom, as he wanted it to be.

Kimbrough took the jazz tradition seriously: his last and most ambitious debut in 2018.Monk’s Dreams: Thelonious Sphere Monk’s Complete Compositions” (Printed as a boxed set of six CDs, I wrote the liner notes for it.) What Kimbrough valued most as a musician was the resulting sense of mystery and slick lyricism—the qualities he associated with Monk and a few other personalities. cornerstone, drummer Paul Motian, keyboardist Annette Peacock, and pianists Andrew Hill and Paul Bley.

During a period beginning in the early 1990s, Kimbrough Jazz Composers CollectiveIt was founded by bassist Ben Allison. Although created by its members to feature new music, the collective has had its most visible success story on The Herbie Nichols Project – a repertory group and repertory group that focuses on one of Kimbrough’s other piano heroes, featuring Horton and Allison, among others. and breeding project.

Speaking in a studio hallway before joining Horton and others for a humble commentary on “TMI,” Allison marveled at the impromptu community around Kimbrough: “Elan organizes sessions, but that’s his musicality and what he does as an artist. “It unites other musicians like moths around a flame.” “And over the decades I’ve known him and worked with him, we’ve talked a lot about it: how we can bring people together around an idea.”

Saxophonist Joe Lovano, who recorded an impressive “Elegy for PM” on his first encounter with Taborn and Monder, made a similar point, referring to Kimbrough’s compositions. “Each one is an idea and has a voice,” said Lovano. Another of the works that Taborn played with trumpeter Dave Douglas, bassist John Hébert and drummer Clarence Penn was “727”. On the page, this piece contained minimal instructions; blossomed in the hands of these musicians.

“What’s in the song, that’s the basics,” Taborn said after shooting, describing Kimbrough as a composer who keeps up with the intuition of experienced improvisers. “Clearly a reductionist of a larger plan. ‘What must be here for this sentence to come true?’ he asks. And then everything else was robbed. ”

What’s remarkable about “Kimbrough” is how thoroughly the songs are performed by bands of musicians who are almost always unexpected in the first take. Among the many highlights are a slightly dragging “A&J” featuring Alexa Tarantino on alto saxophone, Tepfer on piano, Rufus Reid on bass and Matt Wilson on drums; “Quiet as It’s Kept,” featuring Mulherkar and pianist Samora Pinderhughes; “Possibilities” with peer discussion between McCaslin and Wilkins; and a credible read on “Quickening” by Kimbrough’s piano protégé Micah Thomas with Allison and drummer Jeff Williams.

Some of these musicians were rekindling fruitful associations for the first time in years. Others were meeting for the first time on the studio floor. After such a long period of isolation, any footage of a living scene aside, these connections felt much more sustainable and vital. Knowing Kimbrough and everyone involved, Allison said in a studio hallway, “It’s so nice to hear that everyone has come together around this music.”

Hating artistic convention as much as musical clichés, Kimbrough went unrecognized by the public. What would he think of so many musicians coming together in his honor? Allison winced, as if the question had eluded her. He was silent for more than 15 seconds before giving a muffled reply: “I’m sure he would have loved it.”

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