In 2003 Matt Balitsaris, president and producer at Palmetto invited Frank Kimbrough to Palmetto's recording studio (Maggie's Farm) to test some modifications that had been made to our vintage Steinway piano. The first session consisted almost entirely of tunes by Monk and Annette Peacock. The second session took place in Spring of 2007 and included more of Frank's originals as well as compositions by Paul Motian, Duke Ellington and Thelonious Monk. These sessions produced AIR
: informal, mostly first takes, played in the comfortable confines of Maggie's Farm.
Frank Kimbrough has a great deal of experience playing solo piano; in the liner notes to his latest release he recalls a five-year stretch early in his career when the format sustained him. Yet somehow Air is his first solo album. Fittingly, rewardingly, it's a mature and personal reflection. Mr. Kimbrough divides his attentions here between his own tuneful work and a handful of semi-standards by Thelonious Monk, Duke Ellington and Paul Motian. (That list is instructive, as is the album s dedication to the pianists Andrew Hill and Shirley Horn.) He approaches each theme with generosity and composure; he's more interested in lurking around a melody than in figure-skating over a harmony. Despite his percussive touch, he creates a sense of flow by letting chords chime, overlap and decay. The title track, obviously named after the most ethereal of elements, captures this feeling best. Mr. Kimbrough is ultimately more engaging, though, on material with some root-level relationship to the blues. He gets frisky on just a couple of originals, the stridelike Ca'lina and a modal waltz called The Spins, and imbues the rest of the album with a quietly rhapsodic tone. His readings of Monk's Coming On the Hudson and Jackie-ing, both resplendent in tensions, hint at an elusive mastery. The album's chief distraction, for some listeners, will be Mr. Kimbrough's flashes of deference to Mr. Hill, Paul Bley and even Keith Jarrett, who would surely hear some of himself in this version of an older original called Quickening. But these moments unfold with an appealing spirit of candor. Apparently Mr. Kimbrough would be the first to admit he didn t conjure his style, so to speak, out of thin air. NATE CHINEN, New York Times --New York Times