A couple of things you should know first. Let me introduce you to one of my all time favorite musicians, Mark Kimbrell. He is the son of a sort of Birmingham Jazz Legend, Henry Kimbrell. Henry was a player's player. My parents knew him pretty well. The old man used to say that Henry could play like anyone. He was like this genius piano mimic. He could play like Peterson, Tatum, Monk, Powell--you name it. I think it was like part of his act--play the same tune as different people. He is an inductee in the Alabama Jazz Hall Of Fame. So anyway his son, Mark, is this jazz guitar phenomenon.
He is one of those guys that has the twelve tone brain. Nothing is against the rules. I have played with him many times, but it is like every time I do, I find myself mesmerized by his playing to the extent that I have trouble with my own chops! It's like his backup is cooler and more interesting than my lead when it is my turn to solo. I cannot count the number of times that I have gigged with other jazz guitarists when after the gig the conversation drifts to Mark's playing.
Here are my thoughts on why I love the man. His playing is just courageous. As unassuming and shy as he is in conversation, his playing is full of courage. He does things that the rest of us are afraid to do. He will lock in on a lick in a solo and repeat it while everyone else pedals around him. This is a pretty common thing to do playing jazz, but Mark just takes it to that next level. He will do it until it creates this tension in the room. He will do it until the squares in the room bristle. Then seemingly when his playing has gone around the room and slapped everyone, and even the people who are just there to flirt and try to get laid are looking up to the stage to see if someone is having a stroke, he releases it. Storytelling with notes. Tension and release.
Sometimes his playing is like watching a really smart standup act. He is slipping in allusions all over the place. In the middle of something lyrical, he'll toss in a piece of King Crimson's Red. The hipsters all smile.
But among the most delightful things about the guy is the way he says things between sets in conversation. One night I had seen him play this really quirky set with Matthew Devine. They had played this great version of "Epistrophy". Maximum quirk. So I go up to him and say "nice set, Mark." His quick unhesitating and self depricating reply was, "Sometimes, it feels like a guitar in my hands; and sometimes it feels like I am playing this weird toaster."
A toaster. Classic.
Once we were playing together, and it was actually my gig. Mark was nice enough to pull me out of the fire when another guitar player cancelled on me at the last minute. So at one point we are going to play "Donna Lee" by Charlie Parker. It is this fast bebop number loosely based on the chord changes to "Indiana"--only the head is really complicated and Parker-crazy. So I call out that tune, and Mark leans over to me and says "Learning that head gave me back trouble."
There's just a perfection in so many of the things he says and plays. What can I say? I just love the man. Here's the man playing with Otiel. He's playing the red guitar and taunting the audience at the end.