Saturday, July 17, 2010

The Denison/Kimball Trio: "Almost Rockin'"! (1994)

(As published in B-Side ... )

In the November 1994 issue of the Illinois Entertainer, J. Kevin Unsell concluded his review of the Denison/Kimball Trio's debut album, Walls in the City, thus: "I cannot heap enough praise on this recording.... The Denison/Kimball Trio leads the pack for unstructured, avant-jazz genius."

Unsell errs in calling the Denison/Kimball Trio’s music "unstructured" (it's not). But he's right when he says that Denison/Kimball "lead the pack" of alternative jazz types.

Of course, it's not exactly a burgeoning field--or is it?

"There are some other bands in Chicago doing instrumental, jazz-like kinds of things," reports Jim Kimball, the Trio's drummer. "There's nothing exactly like we're doing though."

There’s certainly no other “trio” with only two members. Although their forthcoming second album, Soul Machine, features special guests, Kimball and his guitarist buddy Duane Denison (of Jesus Lizard renown) make ninety-five percent of their music unassisted.

And Kimball doesn't consider their music "jazz."

"Jazzy," he corrects. "I consider myself more of a rock drummer, and Duane considers himself a rock guitarist, I think. We're not going to get a big attitude as if we're some kind of ‘jazz’ musicians, which we aren't."

Nevertheless, Kimball cites Buddy Rich and Max Roach as his earliest drum heroes, and on Soul Machine the "trio" tackles Ornette Coleman's 1959 classic, “Lonely Woman.”

"We do it more upbeat," Kimball says, "kind of rockin', almost Latiny. It sounds different than any other version I've ever heard of it."

In a sense, Soul Machine is Denison/Kimball's real debut. Walls in the City captures many of the duo's strengths, but its functioning as the soundtrack to the Jim Sikora film of the same name inevitably limits the number of ways one can hear it.

"Duane pieced together things that were appropriate for different scenes in the movie,” says Kimball. “Then, when we were in the studio, we were actually watching the movie and playing to the action for about a third of the record.”

He prefers Soul Machine’s wider sonic variety.

"It’s a lot more well rounded. We had extra musicians play--keyboards on one song, sax on one song, and bass on one song. The first one's kind of themey soundtrack music. Soul Machine has some soft stuff and some more aggressive stuff that's almost rockin'."

Still, Walls in the City has charms of its own. Perhaps because such "jazzy"-ness represents one of the bigger steps that alternative rockers have taken away from grunge-for-grunge's sake, it sounds soothing, if not quite smooth. Denison's rigorously rippling guitar work, even in the service of quieter textures, sees to that.

"Duane's a genius," Kimball chuckles. "He's really a lot of fun to play with because he has so many ideas. So some of the stuff on the new record is really free. We recorded two or three of the tracks the first time we played them. And though Duane has written most of the material, there's a lot of space for me to do whatever I want within the context of the song.

"There are only two of us,” he says, “so there's a lot of space. And some of it needs to be filled up."

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