Frank Kimbrough: 2003-2006 – Lullabluebye/Play

Retrospective on the American pianist demonstrates his affinities with Nichols, Monk, Evans, Bley and Hill but also his flair for composition


Pianist Frank Kimbrough died in 2020 at the age of 64, and in his memory, Palmetto Records are reissuing this pair of superb trio dates. Lullabluebye from 2003 features the pianist’s longtime collaborators Ben Allison (bass) and Matt Wilson (drums); Play from 2005 has bassist Masa Kamaguchi and legendary drummer Paul Motian.

The two albums showcase Kimbrough’s ingenious and spontaneous improvisations, with almost all compositions by the leader. They show what I hadn’t realised, that he is a very fine jazz composer – this is the work by him that listeners should focus on, I believe.

One can hear ingredients in his style from Herbie Nichols, Thelonious Monk and Bill Evans, while Paul Bley and Andrew Hill were mentors. On Lullabluebye, the title track has a clever, lazily lyrical theme, while the halting, introspective Ghost Dance is a tribute to the work of Annette Peacock. The tricksy Whirl, with its out-of-kilter theme, is a superb concept, while the final track, Eventualities, begins with mournful unaccompanied playing by Kimbrough, and continues in melancholic vein. (The track-listing order on the CD sleeve is incorrect for this album.)

The album has two compositions not by the leader – the funky Ben’s Tune, by bassist Ben Allison, and a Latin-tinged version of John Barry’s You Only Live Twice, a song that’s rarely given a jazz interpretation.

As one reviewer has pointed out, on Play Kimbrough’s affinities with Paul Bley are particularly apparent – particularly on the opening track Beginning. The convoluted but swinging The Spins is a standout. Paul Motion contributes two compositions, including the evanescent and haunting Conception Vessel.

These are superb releases by an under-recognised musician’s musician.

CD1: (1) Lullabluebye; Centering; Kid Stuff; Ode; Whirl; Ghost Dance; You Only Live Twice; FU BU; Ben’s Tune; Eventualities (55.23)
CD2: (2) Beginning; The Spins; Lucent; Waiting In Santander; Conception Vessel; Jimmy; Play; Regeneration; Little Big Man; Beginning 2 (52.47)
Kimbrough (p) with:
(1) Ben Allison (b); Matt Wilson (d). Maggie’s Farm, PA, 15-16 April 2003.
(2) Masa Kamaguchi (b); Paul Motian (d). Maggie’s Farm, PA, 25-26 April 2005.
Palmetto Records