Frank Kimbrough Quartet
On his 12th album as a leader, pianist Frank Kimbrough achieves a very personal kind of swinging lyricism. Song form and rhythm acquire a loose elasticity — always felt, even when they’re not explicitly stated. Working with longtime collaborators, Kimbrough spotlights a variety of material, including originals from throughout his career as well as atypical standards.
The set opens with “The Call,” a free-time invocation marked by saxophonist Steve Wilson’s upward-bending, Coltrane-like cries. “Blue Smoke” displays a bebop lilt and includes a built-in birdcall riff for Wilson’s alto plus passages of double-time swing for Kimbrough, bassist Jay Anderson and drummer Lewis Nash. “Kudzu”’s gospel-tinged, driving funk recalls early Keith Jarrett. In contrast, the quartet treats Kurt Weill’s ballad “Trouble Man” with patient attention. Piano, bass and drums play the verse, slowly building intensity through Nash’s soft mallet work, Kimbrough’s rhapsodic wanderings, and Anderson’s spare, deliberate bass, before Wilson’s soprano enters on the chorus.
Song forms elsewhere are more elusive, the tunes providing common reference points for free group exploration. So John Lewis’ “Afternoon in Paris” begins with a striding introduction by the pianist before Wilson’s alto enters and the rhythm section pushes, sways, and otherwise dismantles the tune in an easygoing romp. Kimbrough’s elegiac, minor-tinged “November” pivots on a unison statement of the melody by bass and piano spaced between far-ranging excursions. Here, and on the rubato treatment of the ballad-tempo “Beginning,” you get the full measure of the band’s ability to create a balanced four-way counterpoint of rhythmic textures and melodic development. The music breathes, expanding and contracting through the form’s harmonic signposts of tension and release. That group sensitivity imparts particular eloquence to the closing classic Rodgers and Hart ballad “It Never Entered My Mind.” —Jon Garelick