Richie Beirach and Kenny Kirkland

Out now: Ruminations & Reflections – The Musical Journey of Dave Liebman and Richie Beirach from Cymbal Press. (Amazon link.)

Dave Liebman and Richie Beirach. It’s hard to think of one without the other. Ruminations & Reflections collects dialogues that give the pair a chance to tell stories, set the record straight, and consider their contribution.

I’ve read a lot of what Liebman has previously published, including the memoir Self-Portrait of a Jazz Artist: Musical Thoughts and Realities and the autobiography with Lewis Porter, What It Is: The Life of a Jazz Artist, but there has been less of Beirach’s direct personal opinion available. One gets the sense that Liebman steps back a bit in Ruminations & Reflections to let Beirach hold court.

And hold court Beirach does: the great pianist weighs in heavy on all sorts of topics. Of course, Liebman is ready to lay down the law as well. It is conventional for these things to be restrained and politically savvy, but the duo let it all hang out and say exactly what they think. It’s just great. Much of it is simply positive, of course, they both just love music, but there are a few tasty barbs and complaints as well.

Occasionally they are willing to define things in rather bald terms. For Beirach, the big three of classical music are Bach, Schoenberg, and Ligeti. Both agree that the big three of jazz are Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parker, and John Coltrane, while the three jazz cats with the most swinging time feel are Herbie Hancock, Freddie Hubbard, and Elvin Jones.

(To be clear, I don’t necessarily endorse these opinions, but I do think they are interesting.)

The chapter on Chick Corea is worth the price of admission.

Richie: In those days for me it was McCoy, Herbie Hancock, and Chick. They had the linear approach mastered combined with fantastic original harmony, a great sense of swing, “killing” natural time, and a great understanding of the piano. All three were wonderful composers. They were the top of the line. The next record he did was Sundance with his amazing tune “The Brain,” which by the way is a 12-tone row. It is an incredible piece with great intervallic stuff.

Dave: I wonder if he got that from Coltrane’s “Miles Mode,” because that was Trane’s 12-tone tune.

Richie: Maybe, but I think he got it more from Schoenberg. I know he was working on this. Then he ends the melody of “The Brain” on a G minor pedal so here you have both worlds, the diatonic world of G minor pedal and the 12-tone world of the melody of “The Brain.” Chick solos on G minor pedal point with Dave Holland and Jack DeJohnette on bass and drums. It is one of the most iconic and burning solos ever. He utilizes everything McCoy has done and in my opinion even surpasses it in places in terms of pure virtuosity and intensity. Also he had Dave and Jack and those three of course were Miles’ rhythm section for couple of years so they worked together all the time. There was a certain synergy in that band because Dave Holland was like the horse. He loved to play time and gave Jack total freedom in a similar way that Ron Carter gave Tony Williams rhythmic freedom. Also Jack expanded the vision of what the drums could do in a small group situation. It was overpowering at times … it was so intense but it was always musical at the same time. The combination of 4/4 time with Dave and Jack while Chick played like a contemporary piano concerto greatly expanded the possibility of what was possible, helped by using the entire range of the keyboard. Generally jazz piano players usually don’t use whole range of the piano. To me this tune, “The Brain” was the next logical development after McCoy in the history of jazz piano.

Of course it went unnoticed by the jazz public.

More than most, Liebman has explained how to listen to his music, beginning with his book Lookout Farm: A Case Study of Improvisation for Small Group Jazz from the early ’70s. In this latest entry, Beirach offers substantial listening notes to the extensive Beirach/Liebman discography. In his way, Beirach is quite honest and humble about what he is trying to do, and I finished Ruminations & Reflections with even more respect for Beirach’s unique journey.

Kenny Kirkland’s shadow grows longer by the day. There are now two books: DOCTONE: An Oral History of the Legendary Pianist Kenny Kirkland by Noah Haidu (Amazon link) and Kenny Kirkland’s Harmonic and Rhythmic Language: A Model for the Modern Jazz Pianist by Geoffrey Dean ( link).

Both Haidu and Dean are players, and both books document a moment of completion, for Haidu made a corresponding record of Kirkland tunes with Todd Coolman and Billy Hart, while Dean’s book was based a doctoral thesis.

It’s thrilling that Haidu and Dean have made this contribution to the literature. The authors work in perfect counterpoint: Haidu’s book is packed with frank interviews from Kirkland’s family, peers, and followers (I especially enjoyed the chapter with Jason Moran), while Dean has transcribed a bevy of Kirkland solos and offers much technical insight.

One of the takeaways from the books is how much Kirkland is on tape, which is far more than a glance at a conventional discography suggests. Dean includes a few solos that are hard to get, including astounding flights through “Giant Steps” and McCoy Tyner’s “Four by Five,” while many interviewees in Haidu mention tapes of Kirkland in action with varied bands.

I myself have a bootleg trio set at Gilly’s in pretty good sound that should really have wider distribution, for it is even stronger than any of the commercially available Kirkland trio recordings.

Is there any chance of a new online repository of recordings, where students and fans can access the deep cuts? This kind of stewardship would make a difference: After all, it is Kenny Kirkland.