Jazz Musicians Unite With One Goal: Celebrating Frank Kimbrough

A few months in the past, because the lengthy, lean period of pandemic stillness was simply starting to open to new prospects, among the most interesting jazz musicians in New York could possibly be discovered shuffling out and in of a Lower East Side recording studio as if by means of a revolving door. At one level, a number of of them — together with the saxophonist Donny McCaslin, the trumpeter Ron Horton and the pianist Craig Taborn — delved right into a wistful composition titled “Regeneration,” giving it all of the supple dynamism of a banner rippling within the breeze.

Along one wall of the studio was a framed of the music’s composer, the pianist Frank Kimbrough, who died abruptly on the finish of final yr, at 64. His sly smile within the portrait, conveying a benevolent skepticism, felt effectively suited to the venture underway: an elaborate tribute that includes practically 60 of his items interpreted by greater than 65 of his associates, together with former college students and distinguished friends. Amounting to greater than 5 and a half hours of music, this bold launch is offered on Friday digitally and on streaming companies from Newvelle Records, which normally focuses completely on premium vinyl.

Within a musical panorama outlined by relationships, Kimbrough operated as each a connector and an outlier. “He just had a 360 view of things, and a completely open mind on the scene,” stated the alto saxophonist Immanuel Wilkins, who took half within the periods. “The folks who knew him really loved him,” he added, “but even among musicians, there are a lot of people who don’t know his name.”

Ron Horton, left, and Michael Blake. “Frank was modest about his composing,” Horton stated.Credit…Anna Yatskevich

A grand gesture on behalf of an underrecognized determine, “Kimbrough” seems to be from one angle just like the end result of a lifetime’s amassed good will. As a pianist, Kimbrough was prolific and extensively admired however finest recognized for a long-lasting tenure with the Maria Schneider Orchestra; his exact, perceptive accompaniment helped form that ensemble’s expressive sound, as much as and together with “Data Lords,” probably the most critically acclaimed jazz album of 2020. As an educator, Kimbrough left behind a deep legacy of mentorship, most lately within the prestigious Jazz Studies program on the Juilliard School.

Elan Mehler, a pianist who studied with him throughout an earlier stint at New York University, co-founded Newvelle about six years in the past, and invited Kimbrough to document its inaugural launch. That album, “Meantime,” paired him with a handful of youthful gamers just like the trumpeter Riley Mulherkar, who had simply accomplished a masters at Juilliard. Fittingly, the entire proceeds from “Kimbrough” will go towards the Frank Kimbrough Jazz Scholarship there, established by his widow, the singer Maryanne de Prophetis.

Mehler conceived the tribute with an intergenerational ultimate in thoughts, arranging his rotating solid so that hardly any tracks have the identical personnel. “I had multiple spreadsheets, color-coded by musician,” he stated throughout a break within the session. “I’ve never fallen as deeply into anything as I fell into this project. I’d be up until two, three in the morning just putting bands together and then playing the songs with headphones on the keyboard, and changing it, flipping it around, and then falling asleep and dreaming about it.”

In addition to Mehler and Taborn, the pianists on the brand new set embrace Fred Hersch, who knew Kimbrough as a up to date, and Isaiah J. Thompson, who had him as an teacher — together with an honor roll of others, like Gary Versace, Helen Sung, Dan Tepfer, Elio Villafranca and Jacob Sacks. Like everybody concerned within the venture, they donated their companies, creating not solely a stirring homage but additionally a snapshot of a uniquely transitional time.

Elan Mehler is a pianist who studied with Kimbrough and the co-founder of Newvelle Records, the label releasing “Kimbrough.”Credit…Cody O’Loughlin for The New York Times

“If it wasn’t this moment where everybody’s ready to finally play music again, but not yet touring, this wouldn’t have been able to happen,” Mehler stated. “Just the fact that everybody’s in the same city is crazy.”

As a compendium of Kimbrough’s music, the Newvelle launch additionally stakes a critical declare for his legacy as a composer — one thing that took even Mehler considerably without warning. When he first began mapping out the venture, he consulted with de Prophetis about materials. They requested Horton, an skilled archivist, to assemble a e book of Kimbrough compositions. He ended up compiling greater than 90 of them.

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

Moments earlier, Horton had demonstrated the purpose whereas recording a ballad titled “Noumena,” with a hymnlike calm that spiraled into agitated abstraction. The guitarist Ben Monder imparted a barbed edge along with his pedal results, as Horton and McCaslin jostled across the melody. Their efficiency was a vibrant extrapolation of Kimbrough’s unique design — charged with a spirit of freedom, as he’d meant it to be.

Kimbrough took his stewardship of the jazz custom significantly: his remaining and most bold launch, in 2018, was “Monk’s Dreams: The Complete Compositions of Thelonious Sphere Monk.” (It was issued as a six-CD boxed set, for which I wrote liner notes.) What Kimbrough prized most extremely as a musician was a way of unfolding thriller and slippery lyricism — qualities he related to Monk and some different private touchstones, just like the drummer Paul Motian, the keyboardist Annette Peacock and the pianists Andrew Hill and Paul Bley.

For a interval beginning within the early 1990s, Kimbrough carried out and recorded extensively with the Jazz Composers Collective, based by the bassist Ben Allison. Though it was created to highlight new music by its members, the collective had its most seen success story within the Herbie Nichols Project — a repertory group and reclamation venture centered on one other of Kimbrough’s piano heroes, that includes Horton and Allison, amongst others.

From left, Dave Douglas, Joe Lovano and and Craig Taborn. Some musicians who performed on the periods had been rekindling fruitful associations. Others had been assembly for the primary time.Credit…Anna YatskevichThe pianist Helen Sung within the studio.Credit…Anna YatskevichThe saxophonist Immanuel Wilkins.Credit…Anna Yatskevich

Speaking in a studio hallway earlier than he joined Horton and others for a raucous tackle “TMI,” Allison marveled on the impromptu neighborhood that had shaped round Kimbrough: “Elan’s organizing the sessions, but it’s his musicality and what he did as an artist that coalesces other musicians like moths around a flame,” he stated. “And for the decades that I knew him and worked with him, we talked a lot about that: how to bring people together around an idea.”

The saxophonist Joe Lovano — who recorded a shifting “Elegy for P.M.” in a first-time encounter with Taborn and Monder — raised an identical level in reference to Kimbrough’s compositions. “Each one is an idea,” Lovano stated, “and has a sound.” Another of the items he performed was “727,” with Taborn, the trumpeter Dave Douglas, the bassist John Hébert and the drummer Clarence Penn. On the web page, this piece concerned minimal instruction; within the arms of those musicians, it bloomed.

“What’s there in the song, it’s the essential information,” mirrored Taborn after the take, describing Kimbrough as a composer attuned to the instinct of seasoned improvisers. “It’s clearly reductive of a larger scheme. He’s asking, ‘What’s the thing that needs to be here that makes this phrase happen?’ And then everything else is stripped away.”

Lovano and Donny McCaslin. “Each one is an idea,” Lovano stated, of Kimbrough’s compositions, “and has a sound.”Credit…Anna Yatskevich

What’s exceptional about “Kimbrough” is how totally the songs are realized, virtually invariably in a primary take, by sudden groupings of musicians. Among the various highlights are a gently drifting “A&J,” with Alexa Tarantino on alto saxophone, Tepfer on piano, Rufus Reid on bass and Matt Wilson on drums; “Quiet as It’s Kept,” that includes Mulherkar and the pianist Samora Pinderhughes; “Eventualities,” with its collegial sparring between McCaslin and Wilkins; and an authoritative learn on “Quickening” by Kimbrough’s piano protégé Micah Thomas, with Allison and the drummer Jeff Williams.

Some of those musicians had been rekindling fruitful associations for the primary time in years. Others had been assembly for the primary time on the studio ground. After such a protracted interval of isolation, other than any semblance of a residing scene, these connections felt all of the extra sustaining and very important. “Hearing everybody come together around this music is very gratifying,” Allison, who knew Kimbrough in addition to anybody concerned, stated in a studio hallway.

Public recognition had by no means come simply to Kimbrough, who loathed inventive compromise as a lot as he did musical cliché. What would he have considered so many musicians coming collectively in his honor? Allison flinched, as if the query had knocked the wind out of him. He fell silent for greater than 15 seconds earlier than he may type a choked reply: “I’m sure he’d love it.”