After laboring in obscurity for 12 years, playing solo piano gigs around Greenwich Village, things started to take off for pianist Frank Kimbrough. He cites the formation of the Jazz Composers Collective in 1992 as a turning point. “Also around that time I joined Maria Schneider’s band,” says the North Carolina native, who moved to New York in 1981. “The last few years have really been a blessing and I think I can appreciate that a lot now because of the 12 years I spent here with no real success or without any recognition.”
Suddenly, Kimbrough is prominently featured on a slew of noteworthy recordings, including Ted Nash’s Rhyme & Reason (Arabesque), Ben Allison’s Third Eye (Palmetto), Ron Horton’s Genius Envy (OmniTone) and Michael Blake’s Drift (Intuition). Last year also saw the release of his duets with vibist Joe Locke, (Saturn’s Child, OmniTone), his own piano trio offering (Chant , IGMOD), and a second recording of The Herbie Nichols Project (Dr. Cyclops’ Dream, Soul Note), the followup to the group’s highly acclaimed 1997 debut (Love Is Proximity, Soul Note). His quartet project with guitarist Ben Monder, saxophonist Scott Robinson and drummer Tony Morena (Noumena , Soul Note), is slated for a March release.
A sensitive pianist with a penchant for spontaneous invention on the bandstand, Kimbrough is one of the foremost authorities on the music of Herbie Nichols. “I got turned onto him in ’85 through a broadcast on (Columbia University radio station) WKCR, and it struck me right away,” he says. While Kimbrough is committed to keeping the composer’s music alive, he doesn’t shy away from injecting his own impressions into the mix. “We do respect him as a composer and player. We’re certainly not going to trash it or abstract it so far that there’s nothing left of the music. But we still feel a need to express ourselves through it, especially with the horn arrangements. Because there’s no template there to go from because he never recorded with horns. So it does allow us a certain latitude.”