Steve Kimock & Friends Set Precision & Thoughtful Improvisation via ‘Point of No Return’ (ALBUM REVIEW)

Steve Kimock & Friends’ mini-EP Point of No Return whets the appetite for more as much as it satisfies on its own terms. Issued (in digital form only) more or less in lieu of a string of pandemic-plagued shows, this fifteen minutes of live performance was recorded in February of 2019 and subsequently produced for release by John Morgan Kimock (who’s also the drummer in this lineup). As such, the arrangement of three suites represents a vivid snapshot of the simpatico at the heart of this lineup’s musicianship.

A single song from whence comes the title finds the California guitarist creating with some familiar figures. And there’s a fundamental synchrony between and the leader and the aforementioned percussionist, keyboardist Jeff Chimenti (Dead & Co) and bassist Reed Mathis (Tea Leaf Green, Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey). As a result, this particular extemporaneous expansion of ideas finds the foursome taking its time easing into motion before the ideas crystallize in tantalizingly slow motion: imagine one of the Grateful Dead’s more leisurely approaches to “Dark Star.” 

All facile comparisons aside that initially nebulous interplay is nonetheless inviting. Steve Kimock sets the tone and pace with the precision in his playing the late Jerry Garcia no doubt admired, unfurling sweet melodious guitar lines Mathis’ way and the latter subsequently responds with a subtle insistence. That gentle pressure, in turn, matches the younger Kimock’s tender drum work so that Chimenti’s entrance signals the first stage of the instrumental coalescence, a process by which Kimock and company comport themselves with increasing confidence and purpose. Moving so gracefully but authoritatively as they do, the quartet creates a palpable continuity the production no doubt streamlines.

Some listeners may find their patience taxed by the delicacy of it all, plus the fact there’s no dramatic denouement in the final one minute plus section. Valid though that vantage point may be in certain contexts, the perspective misses the point of such loose but careful improvisation such as this: Kimock, Kimock, Mathis and Chimenti cover a sizable expanse of ground in this abbreviated time span. And if the Sweetwater Music Hall audience responds a bit hesitantly, it’s only because they’ve observed a performance that suffices unto itself and as a future reference point. 

Hence, the very reason Point of No Return simultaneously lives up to and belies its title. That very paradox is intrinsic to the most scintillating of improvisations, a contradiction that, for Point of No Return, morphs into self-renewing source of imagination.

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