Liner notes for Saturn's Child

You think you had a tough childhood.   Had to walk everyday nine miles to school in the snow, uphill both ways ... or something like that?

Whatever travails you faced, they're minor compared to having been a son or daughter of Saturn, king of the gods. That's right: Saturn's child.  When used today, the term describes one disposed to melancholy, as recently repopularized in Thomas Moore's Care of the Soul.   And how telltale to brand one prone to gloominess, living as a child of Saturn in fear of a father who at any time might devour you.  (Saturn routinely ate his children for fear of later being usurped by one of his offspring.)

Being a jazz musician today —especially a creative, adventurous one —is a little like being Saturn's child.   While trying to maintain childlike wonderment and a renewable sense of discovery, the artist risks being swallowed up by the art form from which he or she has sprung.   Putting bread on the table, traveling, finding gigs, keeping one's music fresh and one's "chops" sharp, dealing with proselytizers, critics and downright naysayers - none of these is conducive to the demiurge.

Frank Kimbrough and Joe Locke are two such creative spirits.  Each with nearly twenty years of dues paying in New York, each working as performing artist, composer and educator in creative and diverse circles in the music, they've stayed true to their art and have avoided getting consumed by its pursuit.  They're two thinkers, workers, and creators who have remained vigilant to their work and responsive to their muse.

Frank Kimbrough —jazz pianist, educator, and founding member and composer-in-residence of the Jazz Composers Collective —has two previous trio recordings to his credit.  He shares (with bassist Ben Allison) co-leadership of the Collective's critically acclaimed Herbie Nichols Project, which performs the late composer's neglected music by reconstituting and extending it.   Since 1993, he has been the pianist for the Maria Schneider Jazz Orchestra and has performed with that orchestra, the Nichols Project and numerous other ensembles in the US, Europe and Asia.  A recipient of several national and regional grants, Kimbrough has been on the faculty of New York University's jazz program for the past few years, teaching jazz improvisation, piano and ensemble playing.

Joe Locke, a vibraphonist and accomplished composer/arranger, is known internationally for his contagious, high-energy vibraphone playing both in his own groups and in his longstanding association with trumpet master Eddie Henderson.  In addition to twelve recordings as a leader, Locke is one of the most-in-demand vibraphonists on the scene today, as evidenced by his work with a diversity of artists including Grover Washington Jr, Cecil Taylor, Dianne Reeves, Walt Weiskopf and the Beastie Boys. He and Kimbrough have worked together on recordings by Russian tenor saxophonist Igor Butman and vocalist Kendra Shank.

Saturn's Child grew out of the duo's longtime friendship and musical empathy as transplants to the Big Apple in the early '80s and out of simply wanting —for almost as long —to make a record together. As contemplative musicians, it also sprang from necessity, of sorts.

According to Locke, he and Kimbrough talked about so many CDs that they enjoyed that couldn't listen to when they were feeling contemplative.  "When we found ourselves in a reflective mood, we didn't really have music to put on that reflected that mood.  So many CDs had one song that was a nice, moody, slow piece and then, [a] really fast, up-tempo burner. We wanted to do a record you could put on that would keep that mood when you were feeling reflective."

Saturn's Child is reflective —contemplative, moody, full of the depths of each musician's experience —not only for the listener, but for the duo members themselves. It's a departure for each and an extension.

For Kimbrough, whose playing draws from many sources including introspective pianists like Paul Bley and Ran Blake, the record affirms his decision years ago to return to his more natural roots, even in the face of being part of the New York thing.  "In a lot of respects, [Saturn's Child] is a very honest record because there's no fancy 'nothing' going on."  Likewise, Locke enjoyed tapping into that earthiness through his musical interaction with Kimbrough whose playing, says Locke, helps him focus his fire by making him "slow down, because everything about Frank's playing is so organic.  There's a spirit to his playing that's so natural, so in-the-moment."

In seeking that truth, Saturn's Child circumvents the sources of melancholy by avoiding and transcending them.  Like Saturn's children who made it —Jupiter, ruler of the gods, Juno, goddess of marriage, Neptune, god of the sea, Pluto, god of the dead, and Ceres, goddess of grain —this recording and its accomplished art reminds us we can make it, too, with our feet on the ground and a flair for what's in the air.  (Power, love, water, death, and food - that about covers it.  Maybe those 18 miles a day were worth it, after all?)

—Frank Tafuri

©2013 OmniTone