Blue Inventions Trio

Website for composer/pianist Neal Kirkwood

Neal Kirkwood’s Blue Inventions Trio is a jazz chamber music ensemble with Neal Kirkwood, piano and vibraphone, Tim Harrison, flute and piano, and Ron Horton, flugelhorn and trumpet. Their first release was the eponymously titled CD Blue Inventions, featuring the compositions of Kirkwood.

 The trio has performed at the legendary jazz club Mezzrow in NYC’s West Village, Third Street Music School,  Studio 312 in Time’s Square, NYC, and at the UUCLV Concert series in Bethlehem, PA.

This reviewer’s first experience of Neal Kirkwood was in 1999, hearing his robust Octet (two saxophones, trumpet, French horn, trombone, rhythm section) at The Savoy, a briefly extant but significant (it was quite affordable) jazz club across from the bus entrances of the Port Authority Terminal on 41st Street near Ninth Avenue. Needless to say, this album is a far cry from that octet, which mixed Kirkwood’s originals with repertory from Mingus, Monk and Ellington. Blue Inventions is a chamber jazz work, both impressionistic and occasionally abstract, featuring his piano on all 13 tracks, joined by Tim Harrison (flute) and Ron Horton (flugelhorn) on three tracks, plus two tracks with only Harrison and one with just Horton. But the album is mostly a showcase for Kirkwood, both as a wide- ranging pianist and imaginative composer. 

Although the solo piano tracks are all intriguing creatively and eclectically, the trios and duos are the most memorable. “Blue Sinfonia”, the opening trio track, recalls John Lewis’ “Django”, beginning as a drawing room chamber piece, then breaking into a faster swing tempo for solos. “The Sea” follows, this trio piece building like ocean swells as piano and then flute join the lead flugelhorn, with tempo increasing from flute to piano solos and flute shadowing flugelhorn in a coda. Both Harrison and Horton are perceptive improvisers with a lyrical bent who avoid clichés and they have fun with Kirkwood on “Myth”, a short riffy tune that devolves into simultaneous group soloing, à la Mingus. But their talents shine best on the duets “Brief Intervals” and “Eve’s Garden”. The former is a staccato theme with darting flute over piano giving way to breathy overblowing (recalling Rahsaan Roland Kirk) while the latter features flugelhorn with piano in a circling theme with a warm, extended horn solo as a centerpiece. The piano solo tracks conjure up many jazz piano stylists, from Ellington (“Jade Butterfly”) to Dave McKenna and Monk (both on “Evening Breeze”), with hints of Bill Evans, Keith Jarrett and McCoy Tyner along the way too. Blue Inventions impresses as an eminently listenable suite in chamber jazz and solo piano mode. 

George Kanzler, NYC Jazz Record:

"Neal Kirkwood's music is that of a pianist and composer with a taste for beauty and an affection for disruption." 

Howard Mandel