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As evidenced by KIMBROUGH, a remarkable 61-song digital tribute recorded by dozens of former friends, students and collaborators of Frank Kimbrough following his death in December 2020, the pianist, composer and educator was revered by the jazz community — if not a household name outside it. Ancestors may not broaden his following and, recorded in 2017, it may not be his final posthumous release. But with its dark buoyancy and elegiac emotion, it’s difficult to imagine a better sendoff.
A beautiful-sounding recording with ECM-like airiness and clarity, Ancestors finds Kimbrough in the drummerless company of two close associates, bassist Masa Kamaguchi and cornetist Kirk Knuffke. The material operates in various shades of cool, from the tender, caressing “November” to the bluesy Jimmy Giuffre tribute “Jimmy G” to the jumpy, Monk-minded “Over.” It’s an album of vertical highs and lows, with Knuffke soaring into the upper sphere with his sometimes plaintive, sometimes edgy playing and Kamaguchi plumbing the bottom with his rich, reverberant tones. Kimbrough, as always, is a model of lyrical restraint and generosity, one of three equal partners in the process. He was, commented KIMBROUGH contributor Ben Allison, “one of the most giving musicians I’ve ever known.”
Ancestors concludes with the lovely and now-heartbreaking “All These Years,” composed by his widow and onetime bandmate, singer Maryanne de Prophetis. “Union Square,” the only other tune not written or co-written by Kimbrough, is a duet composed by and featuring Kamaguchi and Knuffke. Kimbrough may not play on that track, but his presence is very much felt — just as it still is, nearly a year after his passing, in the music of those he influenced and inspired. — Lloyd Sachs