Air belongs to a genre that might be called “private solo piano recordings.” Not private as in homemade, but private as in cloistral. (Bill Evans’ Alone is the paradigm.) One of the two sessions here began as a tryout of some new equipment in Palmetto’s studio, and was not originally intended for release.
To say that Air feels even more inner-directed and austere than most recordings in this genre is not a putdown. Kimbrough is a serious searcher and an original thinker, and Air is a high-level recital. The description is a warning to those interested in cheap piano thrills.
Kimbrough meditates over his own spare, cryptic melodies and explores little-known songs by well-known composers (Monk’s “Coming on the Hudson,” Ellington’s “Wig Wise”). He does not play licks and never coasts and his fresh designs are always developing, even when they barely move. Solo piano performances as patient as Paul Motian’s “It Should Have Happened a Long Time Ago” and the title track could easily become ponderous, or simply evaporate. But Kimbrough’s journeys come upon many subtle revelations of color and mood and graceful turns into sudden light. The only famous song here is Monk’s “Jackie-ing,” in its slowest version on record. The tempo transforms it and reveals somber poetry that perhaps only Monk knew was there.