Sunday, September 18, 2011

2 Sem 2011 - Part Eight

Ari Roland
New Music

By Michael G. Nastos
Fond of straight-ahead neo-bop themes and forward motion, acoustic upright bassist Ari Roland presents a focused and somewhat idiomatic but original kind of jazz that makes one ponder and concentrate a bit harder than if he and his group were playing predictable jazz standards. The nature of his music on this, his third album, sports parameters based in predecessors of the modern mainstream. But there's an edge to it that smells of spicy brown mustard, due to the unusual sound produced by tenor and alto saxophonist Chris Byars. Where lines are blurred and snaky trails are traceable, it is the elusive nature of Byars that compels you to listen closer, lest you miss a significant event. There's a harmonic kinship to Lee Konitz, Jimmy Giuffre, or the music of Andrew Hill that can be identified in the persona of Byars, but it could not ever be mistaken for the sharper tones of Jackie McLean or the rough-and-tumble fleetness of Phil Woods. With the excellent pianist Sacha Perry and reliable drummer Keith Balla, the Roland quartet proves to be a formidable four-piece searching for new swing-based territory to explore. The first three tracks of the recording hold course in a steady tempo, whether in a lyrical post-bop mood during "Damonesco," the angular Thelonious Monk-flavored "Village," or the strained forms and uncommon constructions Byars employs on "The Finder of Horsehair." For the melody in "Story of Three," the pace is the same, but the ongoing improvisational language Byars conjugates is impressive and Zen-like, even more off-minor as "Portrait of M." unfolds. A stark individualist, it would be tough to compare Byars with other younger players of his generation, but he's also able to fathom a looser, liquid feeling within a bop framework, as you hear on the faster "Folk Melody," and yes, he is capable of tender moments as rendered for the patient "Station Blues." While this is Roland's date, the strong, inexhaustible, and heady thinking man's sax of Byars is the focal point, commanding attention away from the others. Roland did compose these selections in total, and considering that all of the group's members save Balla have been performing regularly for over two decades since they were kids, there's a shared vision that comes across clearly. Where the dominant voice of the saxophone plays a big part in how this recording is heard, it also shows that the bassist is happy via this association with his bandmates, and has no problem relegating the spotlight, even if underneath it all, this is truly his music.

Joe Temperly
The Sinatra Songbook

By Scott Albin
Add Joe Temperley to the list of artists who have recorded worthy tributes to Sinatra, including Tony Bennett, Carol Sloane, Joe Lovano and even Biréli Lagrène (vocalizing!). Then again, with the Great American Songbook as the repertoire, how can you go wrong? Temperley’s salute comes 10 years after Sinatra’s death, and features heartfelt theme readings, passionate solos and rousing arrangements by Andy Farber and James Chirillo on the selections for octet. You can practically hear Sinatra singing along as Temperley croons the melodies on baritone and soprano sax. His sound on bari is sometimes cavernous yet tender, as on “Nancy (With the Laughing Face),” and at other times breathily insinuating like Ben Webster’s. His glowing soprano sax often evokes Sidney Bechet’s fervent edginess, especially on “Day by Day.” The two lovely miniature ballad interpretations by Temperley—the 2:49 quartet version of “In the Wee Small Hours,” and his 1:46 duet with guitarist Chirillo on “Goodbye”—say all you need to know about the leader’s appreciation of, and love for, Sinatra.
Farber’s clever, swinging arrangements of “Come Fly With Me,” “All the Way,” “I’ll Never Smile Again” and “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” are particularly noteworthy, capturing in their rich voicings elements of Nelson Riddle or the Count Basie Orchestra. Farber’s fine solo work on both tenor and alto (on the latter sounding very much like Benny Carter) should also be mentioned. All the other players get plenty of solo space as well, and all excel, namely trumpeter Ryan Kisor, trombonist John Allred, pianist Dan Nimmer, bassist John Webber and Chirillo. Leroy Williams’ drum work is impeccably tasteful throughout. The young Nimmer is a pianist to watch for, with an assured style on this date that exhibits flashes of Oscar Peterson, Erroll Garner and Red Garland.

Rez Abbasi Acoustic Quartet
Natural Selection

By Raul D'Gama Rose
Profound spirituality and soulfulness is not a quality associated with secular music. However, once in awhile, even secular music reaches levels of such ecstasy that these elements become entwined in the heart of its melody and harmonic changes, as well as its iterant rhythm. Less often, this fusion is found at the confluence of mystic rivers of sound, where the myriad cultures of the world collide. Civilizations as ancient as Egypt, India and China have long held music in crucibles that have, for thousands of years, been beguilingly attractive to all those who follow the arts. This is not because of its shimmering undulations that Western eyes and ears see and hear in saffron curtains that tease the senses, but because spiritual and secular seem to meet at infinity, like parallel lines that mesmerize, enticing ever onward to its beckoning horizon.
Somewhere in a crucible all its own the music of guitarist Rez Abbasi sings. Natural Selection is a miraculous collision of the world of the color and nuanced sound of the Subcontinent; the ululations of Middle Eastern “muwashas,” traipsing across desert and mountain; and the near statuesque beauty of European impressionism, all wrapped up in the improvisatory idiom of jazz. It is natural selection, where all those useful elements have survived and become reborn in a brilliant new aesthetic wrought by a fertile mind, and the charming magic of fingers that flutter and glide over the guitar strings with riotous color, producing so vivid a music that it can almost be tasted, as it seeps into the secret recesses of the mind where pleasure is felt like pain. Despite the fact that he plays an instrument that many have excelled at--the acoustic guitar--Abbasi sounds like no one who has gone before him.
His guitar wails about unspeakable loss on “Lament,” undulating and tearing down the chart with surprising, bending glissandos, as he recreates the masterful music of the prince of Sufi sound, the late Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. And even Joe Henderson could not have imagined that his “Punjab” could be resurrected to fly in the face of genius from the strings of an acoustic guitar, playing off the echoes of the vibraphone. Abbasi's own creations are just that: sheer genius that rises out of murky, misty mountainous mornings, or crepuscular exchanges between his guitar and Bill Ware's vibes, as well as Stephen Crump's bass and Eric McPherson's percussion smatter. The composer posits that he heard this call-and-response in the music as it was being born. As a result, “Up on a Hill,” “When Night Falls,” “Bees” and “Blu Vindaloo” echoes with smearing and voice-like utterances in harmony, with the bronzed modulations of tubular bells that also echo with soulful grandeur. All of this, as the album's otherworldly character echoes long after the last notes have faded and died.
Track Listing:
Lament; Pakistani Minor; Personal Mountains; Up on the Hill; When Light Falls; Bees; Blu Vindaloo; New Aesthetic; Punjab; Ain't No Sunshine.
Rez Abbasi: acoustic guitars; Bill Ware: vibraphone; Stephan Crump: acoustic bass; Eric McPherson: drums.


By Chris May
Copenhagen-born, London-based bassist Jasper Høiby has made a lot of noise--in both senses, all of it good--since graduating from the Royal Academy of Music and forming Phronesis in 2005. Høiby is a mainstay of several bands associated with the Loop and F-IRE musicians' collectives, and Alive is his third album with his own Phronesis, following Organic Warfare (2007) and Green Delay (2009), both on Loop Records. It was recorded over two nights at London's Forge Arts venue in March 2010 for keyboard player Dave Stapleton's Edition Records.
Edition has acquired a reputation for high production values, and here it has done Phronesis proud. In performance, the group can make even the late e.s.t. in all its rock-out pomp sound a little lightweight, driven hard as it is by Høiby's big, fat sound and deep grooves, and the vigorous drumming of Anton Eger--here replaced, due to his unavoidable absence from the Forge Arts gigs, by the equally highly-charged Mark Guiliana, an alumni of bassist Avishai Cohen's group. Edition engineer Matt Robertson has captured the passion of Phronesis live to create real edge-of-your-seat excitement.
Phronesis, however, is not your typical, common or garden groove machine. For a start, Høiby's writing--all the eight tunes here are originals, seven of them from the earlier albums--is complex, and for all their muscular intensity, his grooves and ostinatos are complex and shape-shifting. On top of that, pianist Ivo Neame--who joined the lineup with Green Delay--likes to work across rather than on the grooves, his expansive lyricism bringing a tension, and a degree of interest, to the music which simple groove-adherence would not deliver.
The relative weakness in Phronesis is in the compositions, which don't in themselves stick in the mind for long. But this is almost an irrelevance, because what ultimately makes the band so engaging is the interaction between the three players. And here, Høiby's choice of drummer dep was a good one, because Guiliana--who must, surely, have had some rehearsals beforehand--fits right in from the get go, bouncing off Høiby's lines with casual panache.
Too many albums, in the noughties, have outstayed their welcome with playing times far in excess of an hour. Less, often, is more. But Alive, which clocks in at over 73 minutes, is compelling without pause. It may “only” be a live recording, but the disc is certain to remain a landmark in Phronesis' catalogue for years to come.
Track Listing:
Blue Inspiration; French; Eight Hours; Abraham's New Gift; Rue Cing Diamants; Happy Notes; Love Song; Untitled #2.
Jasper Høiby: double-bass; Ivo Neame: piano; Mark Guiliana: drums.

Rondi Charleston
Who Knows Where The Time Goes

By Jason Byrne
Rondi Charleston is joined by:
Dave Stryker (guitar), Lynne Arriale (piano), James Genus (bass), Clarence Penn (drums), Brandon McCune (piano) and Mayra Casales (percussion).
The dozen breathtaking performances on Who Knows Where The Time Goes, singer and songwriter Rondi Charleston's upcoming Motéma Music release, are a showcase for one of the most compelling artists in contemporary music. Who Knows Where The Time Goes is the follow-up to her 2008, critically acclaimed release In My Life.
A storyteller by nature, and a dedicated vocalist, Charleston has established herself as a favorite among a core group of respected critics. The New York Times has called Rondi, ”utterly delightful...her emotional range is wide...a joy to hear.” And Grammy-winning journalist and music historian Bob Blumenthal considers her, ...”that rare combination of native talent and keen perception...a commanding vocal stylist and a spellbinding storyteller...”
Performing music is as natural as storytelling for the Juilliard-trained Charleston, whose instinct provides the warm lucidity of her work on Who Knows Where the Time Goes.
The former Chicago native's luminous rhythmic flexibility and immediate timbral richness are heard throughout the recording, whether confessing the longings of “Please Send Me Someone to Love” or demonstrating a force as strong as gravity on her originals, “Dance of Time,” the remarkable tale of “Land of Galilee,” or reflections on the heart-wrenching ancestral journey in “Your Spirit Lingers,” Charleston writes and sings with full engagement and zero pretense, wasting no words.
Motéma Music owner/label head Jana Herzen said of Rondi's signing, “I treasure her passion, vision and talent for perceiving and telling compelling, universal stories. The arts for me are all about the journey, and Rondi has much to share on that front.”
Blending her diverse careers in music and media, the collection of tunes on Who Knows Where the Time Goes, including the title song, are marked by honest words, skillful writing and intelligent music. Charleston's unique style is a wonderfully accessible form of jazz and jazz-inspired songs all delivered with the ease of the classic American Standard or the brilliant simplicity of a Top 40 pop tune.

2 Sem 2011 - Part Seven

Lee Konitz/ Brad Mehldau/ Charlie Haden/ Paul Motian
Live At Birdland

By Phil Freeman
"Boring" feels like such a pejorative description. It's better to call this all-star summit conference of sleepy time jazz players, led by alto saxophonist Lee Konitz and including pianist Brad Mehldau and bassist Charlie Haden, in addition to Paul Motian on drums, "stately," "refined," or "relaxed". The fact that the tunes -- all standards -- are virtually indistinguishable from each other, and go on at least five, and in one case, ten minutes too long in order to make room for just one more lugubrious bowed bass solo from Haden or one more slow-motion Mehldau keyboard interlude, should not be taken as prima facie evidence of the emptiness of this sort of pseudo-event, all too common in New York jazz clubs. After all, the live audience eats it up, as can clearly be heard. But is this album of any value to jazz as a whole? It is not. This is the sound of three men whose reputations rest on work done decades earlier, and one younger man whose reputation is difficult to explain, delicately tiptoeing through six pieces, some of which have been recorded hundreds if not thousands of times already. It is as far as possible from the sound of jazz moving forward, or preserving the creative vitality that is supposedly the heart of the genre. If all you want is to hear four accomplished musicians playing standards, this album provides an hour's worth of that. If you want more from jazz, you're out of luck.

Gretchen Parlato
The Lost and Found

By C. Michael Bailey
Gretchen Parlato is emerging as the most important jazz singer since Cassandra Wilson. Her vocal approach is so unique and her repertoire so eclectic that she stands to create a jazz vocal genre unto herself. After placing first in the 2004 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Vocals Competition, Parlato released her eponymous debut, self-produced, in 2005. Warmly received, she followed her freshman effort up in 2009 with In a Dream (Obliqsound), her critical gravity growing.
And those are just Parlato's recordings as leader. She has been a featured vocalist on many records, including David Binney's Greylen Epicenter (Mythology, 2010) and Esperanza Spalding's Chamber Music Society (Concord Music Group, 2010).
Much anticipated, The Lost and Found appears, revealing Parlato's sonic evolution toward an end very different from Wilson's. Where Wilson has intently explored the earthy, organic nature of the music she sings, Parlato has entered the laboratory to distill her music to its bare essence: a whisper, a scent, an echo, a suggestion. Her light, no-pressure approach better reveals the harmonic metaphysics of the songs she sings, whether originals or standards.
The Lost and Found draws much from her two previous releases. Parlato's Wayne Shorter fixation that prompted her to include the saxophonist's “Juju/Footprints” medley on her first recording, and “ESP” on In A Dream, reprises “Juju” alone on The Lost and Found. The fondness that Parlato has for impressionistic music manifests itself in her version of Miles Davis/Bill Evans “Blue in Green,” and a cover of Simply Red's “Holding Back The Years,” rendered as diaphanous mist, Parlato's light voice perfect for the role.
The singer's reprise of “Juju,” possesses a crystalline translucence, made acute by Dayna Stephens' wandering saxophone and pianist Taylor Eigsti's run-rampant sonic investigations. Her soft voice provides stark contrast to its support, making for an edgy affair all the way around. Lauren Hill's “All That I Can Say,” a successful vehicle for Mary J. Blige, proves equally successful for Parlato, who imparts a lighter contemporary vibe to the song.
Parlato is a young and vibrant artist, from whom we are only beginning to hear, and whose future is bright, indeed.
Track Listing:
Holding Back The Years; Winter Wind; How We Love; Juju; Still; Better than; Alo, Alo; Circling; Henya; In a Dream (Remix); All That I Can Say; Me and You; Blue in Green; The Lost and Found; Without a Sound.
Gretchen Parlato: vocals; Taylor Eigsti: piano; Derrick Hodge, Alan Hampton: bass; Kendrick Scott: drums; Dayna Stephens: tenor saxophone.


By Alex Henderson
Some jazz musicians aren't documented nearly as much as they should be; one could write a book about all the talented improvisers who made it to 60 or 65 without ever recording an album, or even being featured as a sideman on someone else's album. But Hiromi, thankfully, has been recording frequently ever since she emerged in the early 2000s, and she has been wise enough to record in a variety of settings. Hiromi has recorded unaccompanied, as well as in duos and trios; she has played in both electric groups and acoustic groups, and she has provided straight-ahead post-bop as well as fusion. Voice is best described as an electro-acoustic effort that is more post-bop than fusion but has its rock-influenced moments. Forming a trio with Anthony Jackson on electric bass and Simon Phillips on drums, Hiromi is heard on both acoustic piano and electric keyboards but pays more attention to the former. And while this 2010 recording may not be ideal from the perspective of a rigid jazz purist or a bop snob, Hiromi's outlook is very much the outlook of a jazz improviser; the fact that she, Jackson, and Phillips bring some rock muscle to some of the material doesn't negate that. Hiromi is undeniably imaginative on an intriguing performance of Ludwig van Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 8 in C Minus, Opus 13, aka Sonata Pathétique, which goes back to 1798. Or course, there was no jazz in Beethoven's time; if one agrees that jazz started when cornetist Buddy Bolden formed his first band in New Orleans in 1895, then jazz was a little over 100 years away from being created when Beethoven composed Sonata Pathétique. But Hiromi has no problem bringing Beethoven's piece into the jazz world of the 21st century; she is no less an improviser on Sonata Pathétique than she is on free-spirited originals such as "Labyrinth," "Flashback," "Delusion," and "Now or Never." The Hiromi/Jackson/Phillips trio might display more rock muscle on some tracks than they do on others, but rock muscle or not, this 66-minute CD never loses its jazz mentality. Voice is yet another absorbing effort from this capricious acoustic pianist/electric keyboardist.

Johnny Mandel
The Man and His Music

By Ken Dryden
Johnny Mandel has long been recognized as one of America's greatest songwriters, particularly in his composing of memorable original music for movie soundtracks, which have produced a number of popular standards. But he rarely issues recordings under his own name; happily this live CD, drawn from two nights at Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola, features Mandel conducting Dr. Sherrie Maricle and the DIVA Jazz Orchestra through 13 of his arrangements, with ten songs being originals. DIVA has long been a swinging unit, and Maricle has a reputation for seeking out the top female players for her "No Man's Band," many of whom have graduated and become prominent leaders themselves. Without surprise, the DIVA Jazz Orchestra plays Mandel's charts with the finesse of veterans who have played them night after night for years, the ensembles are flawless, and there are too many outstanding soloists to list. Singer Ann Hampton Callaway guests on a swinging "What a Little Moonlight Can Do" (associated with Billie Holiday, among many others) and Mandel's lovely ballad "Where Do You Start," along with a sassy take of "Ain't Nobody's Business." Of course, there are memorable performances of Mandel's standards like the touching "Emily" (forever associated with pianist Bill Evans' recordings) the hip, sexy "Black Nightgown," and the dark "Theme from 'I Want to Live'," the latter showcasing Lisa Parrott on the baritone sax feature first recorded by Gerry Mulligan. Mandel's interpretation of his "Theme from M*A*S*H" starts along its original path, but quickly switches to a breezy Afro-Cuban setting. If that's not enough, the band wraps the date with Mandel's robust scoring of Tiny Kahn's "TNT" (better known as "Can't Take You Nowhere" after Dave Frishberg added an amusing lyric to it decades later). Highly recommended.

Houston Person

By Michael G. Nastos
Not all mellow, Houston Person's tribute to the softer side of jazz has its moments based on the laid-back timbre of his soul rather than a program consisting of only ballads. The tenor sax he wields certainly reflects the tradition established by Ben Webster in its soul-drenched tone, but is not as vocally pronounced or vibrato-driven. The quite capable pianist John Di Martino is the one whose more enunciated notions are harnessed, while tasteful guitar by the underrated James Chirillo rings out in acceptance of Person's embraceable hues. In a program of standards and two blues jams, Person rounds into shape this quintet of true professionals to render themes that are harder to play slow than fast. The slower material includes the regretful, throaty ballad "Too Late Now," the totally restrained "To Each His Own," a poignant "Two Different Worlds," and the deep, mature take of "God Bless the Child." Ever cognizant of blue moods, Person is masterful in expressing his innermost heartfelt feelings, as on the easy swinger and obvious choice for this date, Duke Ellington's "In a Mellow Tone." Then there's "Blues in the A.M.," a basic jam with Ray Drummond's bass leading out with drummer Lewis Nash in an uptown style as Chirillo's guitar states its wise, sophisticated case. The most upbeat number is the closer, the fast hard bop three-minute quickie "Lester Leaps In," while in midtempo form, the opener, Bobby Hebb's "Sunny," is a typical choice. Conversely, the usual ballad "Who Can I Turn To?" is a bit amped up. Di Martino and Chirillo are known to kick things up several notches, but here are great tastemakers who fully understand Person's persona and growing importance as one who prefers an understated approach. That's not to say this marvelous tenor saxophonist has depreciated his talent as an adept technician, but at this point in his career he prefers this music on the mellow side, and has no problem staying interested in that mood, no matter the tempo.

Sunday, September 04, 2011


photo by Robert Lewis

by Claudio Botelho

I won’t talk here about Ellington, Coleman, Davis, Monk, Armstrong, Mingus, Coltrane, Bird, Evans or any other sacred cow of jazz. They’ve talked about too often and their life and work have been more than extensively covered worldwide. Those who love jazz certainly have heard a lot about all of them and they deserve all the praise, hands down!
But, as we know, many times, history has been very unfaithful to some low profile personalities: that ones who, consciously or not, keep away from the spots. Many a great men passes through this life too silently; never calling attention to themselves, or, otherwise, never as they should. Well, in many instances, it may be a self decision: they just don’t like to call much attention; some just don’t stand their fan’s demands and decide to run more on the shadows… Others are intrinsically reserved by nature; keep faith on staying at the side, as they just don’t bother being much celebrated and even (who knows) find all this a nuisance, as they don’t take themselves much seriously. Although recognition is a human necessity, not everyone feels comfortable being praised too frequently and, past a certain point, misses the sometimes good feeling of anonymity. I feel some of the greatest of the human gender are just unknown entities…
I’ll pay homage here to someone who has been consistently doing very good jazz now for more than forty years and may fill one or more of the behaviors described above. Otherwise, those who love jazz own him much, much more recognition, for he’s someone who rarely, if ever, has done a lesser work and has been enhancing the life of this art listeners for as much time as he is on the road. 
Has he broken any established rules; the cannons so long crystallized in improvised music throughout his long career? I think not. Has he created any new form to express himself; to communicate to us all? Again, I don’t think so. Has he led any musical group long enough to be forever remembered in the annals of his art? Nope…
What he’s doing all these years is telling histories full of drama, enchantment, happiness, sadness, tenderness, anxiety, expectancy, hope, exhilaration, unpredictability, urgency and all the many other necessary ingredients they demand! His music is plenty of expressiveness; just like life.
For me, music is emotion; must have ups and downs, pianissimos and fortissimos; must be visceral, organic, emotive, and all this should be in the heart of the artist, or it won’t fulfill its mission. 
I crave emotional tales and, so, need some good story tellers and the artist heralded here is one of the best. 
His name is Steve Kuhn and he plays the piano!
Now you know that masterpieces like Bach’s “Goldberg Variations”aren’t just my cup of tea, as its composer assignment was to fight the king’s insomnia. Taking this into account, I’d say he was plenty successful and was surely very well rewarded by his majesty…
So, back to Mr. Kuhn!...

by Leonardo Barroso

Life´s Backward Glances - Solo and Quartet

Cover (Life's Backward Glances [3 Discs]:Steve Kuhn)

by John Kelman
With an inestimable career largely spent in the service of interpreting the material of others, it's easy to forget pianist Steve Kuhn's equally valuable contributions as a composer. That he's turned almost exclusively to the venerable ECM label when either the spirit moves him to focus once again on his own writing, or when the label's head and primary producer Manfred Eicher feels it's time that the pianist consider doing so, the result has been a small but significant discography.
This began with the 1974 solo album, Ecstasy--recorded at Eicher's suggestion a day after the session that resulted in the 1975 group record Trance, reissued on CD by ECM in 2005. Kuhn has since released six more discs on ECM over the next three decades, the most recent being Promises Kept (2004), a rare meeting of jazz and strings that avoided all tendencies towards the saccharine while, at the same time, remaining deeply beautiful.
With only three of Kuhn's eight discs available on CD (four counting the limited edition Japanese release of Ecstasy), Life's Backward Glances - Solo and Quartet begins to right a major wrong by making Ecstasy, 1977's Motility with his Ecstasy quartet, and 1980's Playground, with vocal legend Sheila Jordan, available as a three-CD box set, complete with liner notes by Bob Blumenthal. There's considerable cross-over of material; Kuhn's not a prolific writer, but he has managed to turn a relatively small repertoire into a profoundly meaningful one.
With two very different quartet contexts augmenting the solo disc--both featuring a traditional piano-bass-drums foundation, but one featuring woodwind multi-instrumentalist Steve Slagle, and the other with Jordan bring a lyrical interpretation to Kuhn's writing--Life's Backward Glances refracts Kuhn's music through three very different prisms, each with its own set of colors and undeniable charm.

Recorded the day after the sessions for Trance--featuring bassist Steve Swallow, drummer Jack DeJohnette and percussionist Sue Evans--was complete, it's no surprise that Kuhn would revisit some of the same material, but this time in the more liberated context of a solo recording. By this time ECM had almost single-handedly revived the art of solo recording--piano in particular, with seminal entries from Keith Jarrrett (1972's Facing You), Chick Corea (1970's Piano Improvisations Vol. 1 and 1972's Piano Improvisations Vol. 2) and Paul Bley (1973's Open, To Love)--and Kuhn's addition to ECM's canon, not surprisingly, possesses its own unique personality.
Kuhn's writing--always lyrical, sometimes melancholy and always bearing the potential for descent into a tumultuous maelstrom--is a dramatic, swirling chaos but one from which Kuhn invariable manages to escape, returning to the vivid melodies that define his compositions. The opening "Silver" is also performed solo in Trance, but here he extends it to nearly triple the length, beginning in spare impressionism before gradually introducing a kind of flexible time. Dark-hued, Kuhn's free association allows this initially poignant lament to gradually turn more forceful, while never losing its evocative core.
"Prelude in G" is a spontaneous creation yet, much like Jarrett, Kuhn possesses a remarkable ability to pull form from the ether, with a simple arpeggiated pattern gradually dissolving into greater anarchy, building to a turbulent climax that ends almost as suddenly as it begins. "Ulla," which would resurface years later as the title track to his return to ECM, Return to Tomorrow (1996), holds the closest markers to the jazz tradition. At a time when artists were oftentimes turning away from that tradition, for Kuhn it was always a fundamental component of who he was. Still, its changes--linked by passing notes to create a chordal foundation for Kuhn's singable theme--feel somehow inevitable even as they sound new and fresh.
A 12-minute combination of the introspective "Thoughts of a Gentleman" (later revisited as "Gentle Thoughts" on Playground), and even more melancholic "The Saga of Harrison Crabfeathers" (later to become "Poem for No. 15" on Playground), an oblique reference to the tragic plane crash that took the life of New York Yankees catcher Thurston Munson, again visit Kuhn's penchant for moving from impressionism to expressionism, as the violent resonance of "Crabfeathers" continues to descend into greater turmoil, unsettlingly alternating with sudden returns to form. Kuhn's disposition for high drama is marked by a surprising ability to avoid blatant melodrama, instead mining emotions ranging from refined elegance to raw catharsis.
"Life's Backwards Glance"--perhaps Kuhn's most often-recorded original (appearing on Trance, Ecstasy, Playground, Remembering Tomorrow and Promises Kept)--is, like a well-heeled standard, a song that provides expansive grist for constant reinterpretation. It's also one of a number of songs that, while interpreted here instrumentally, have provided Kuhn a vehicle for his poetic muse. A rubato tone poem on Trance, a day later it becomes a stream-of-consciousness forum for Kuhn, while ultimately evolving into a similar space, Kuhn's virtuosic cascading lines creating the same sense of power that it took an entire rhythm section to evoke on Trance.

Motility debuts Kuhn's working band Ecstasy, featuring saxophonist and flautist Steve Slagle, bassist Swartz (later to become simply Harvie S.) and drummer Michael Smith, who would be replaced by Bob Moses for the group's follow-up, 1978's Non-Fiction. While working in a group context inherently imposes certain structural necessities, Ecstasy managed to retain much of the temporal elasticity and broader impressionistic ambience of Kuhn's solo effort. While everyone shines on Motility--perhaps most notably Smith, if only because he's as paradoxically powerful yet empathically sensitive as other drum mainstays of the label at that time (DeJohnette, Jon Christensen and Michael DiPasqua), who after this recording appears to have disappeared off the face of the planet-- but more in the "everyone soloing and nobody soloing" manner that the late Joe Zawinul used to describe his longstanding group, Weather Report.
That said, other than a collective approach to interpreting Kuhn's six compositions and Swartz's two, there's little to link Ecstasy with Weather Report--even the early, more spontaneously improvisational version responsible for the 1971 self-titled debut and 1972's I Sing the Body Electric, both on Columbia/Legacy. Kuhn's ability to evoke vivid imagery hits with the album opener, the aptly-titled "Rain Forest," where Kuhn's delicate pianism interacts with Slagle's flute to create a cinematic vision, Swartz's deep arco anchoring this rubato excursion into collective interaction. "Oceans in the Sky" is more dramatic, an ideal follow-on to "Rain Forest," that takes similar ideas and infuses them with greater power, as Smith's dry cymbal work and fervent rolls around the kit create a paradoxically ethereal yet unmistakable sense of forward motion that, coupled with Kuhn's cascading lines, conjures up images white-capped waves. Slagle, this time on soprano sax, provides the melodic strength even as he plays with Dave Liebman-esque energy and expressionism.
Swartz, who would also appear on ECM with his own collaborative group Double Image for its sophomore release, Dawn (1979), would go on to focus his energies on Latin jazz, but here--as well as on a series of duet albums with Jordan that took place after their first encounter in Kuhn's group on Playground and its follow-up, the live Last Year's Waltz (ECM, 1982)--he's more stylistically expansive. He's also far more than a rhythmic anchor in a group that encourages interplay and democracy. His two compositional contributions to Motility--the bold yet lyrical "Catherine" and high velocity album closer, "Places I've Never Been"--a burning samba that foreshadows things to come--demonstrate an already well-developed writer (he was under 30 at the time of this recording), and a virtuoso player capable of blinding speed who, rather than using it as an end unto itself, never abandons finding imaginative expansions on the essence of song.
The collaborative nature of Motility doesn't mean there aren't impressive solos peppered throughout the disc. Both Kuhn and Swartz deliver fiery solos on "Places I've Never Been," while Slagle is at his hottest on "Bittersweet Passages," where the solo may revolve around a pedal point, but the saxophonist moves in, out and around that sparest of contexts to create a solo of surprising invention. Swartz also takes an impressive solo on Kuhn's wry "Deep Tango," before the pianist's own solo cleverly juxtaposes near chaos with potently romantic melodicism.
Stormy weather also imbues the high energy title track, which ultimately swings hard, once again referencing Kuhn's unmistakable roots in the jazz tradition. So, too, does the disc's one solo piano piece, "A Danse for One," which is filled with skewed and direct references to blues and barrelhouse, all the while feeling completely connected to the rest of the album, as the pianist shifts from the straightforward to the anarchic at the drop of a dime.
As strong as Trance is, there's more of a group feel about Motility, perhaps because Kuhn, Slagle, Swartz and Smith had already been working together as a unit prior to its recording. It's a strong debut, but Non-Fiction edges it out by a nose, and hopefully will receive similar reissue treatment before too long.

Kuhn may have managed to get one example of his odd poetry out on Trance ("Life's Backward Glance"), and had already recorded an album with Karin Krog singing a number of his songs (We Could Be Flying, P-Vine, 1974), but it wasn't until he took his group with Swartz and Moses, and replaced Slagle with Sheila Jordan, that he was able to record an entire album devoted to his music and lyrics. Four of the tunes had already appeared on previous ECM discs--"Gentle Thoughts" (as "Thoughts of a Gentleman"), "Poem for No. 15" (as "The Saga of Harrison Crabfeathers"), "Deep Tango" and the perennial "Life's Backwards Glance." But the two other tracks on Playground--"Tomorrow's Son" and "The Zoo"--had past lives under different names as well. But with the inclusion of a vocalist, Kuhn's approach to the material had to change significantly, most notably with a firmer, more clearly defined pulse--at least during the passages where Jordan was singing.
Kuhn's lyrics ranged from the absurd ("The Zoo") to the more personal ("Tomorrow's Son," "Thoughts of a Gentleman"), the latter relating to a time in his life where, as he confesses in the liner notes, following the end of a love affair with Swedish singer Monica Zetterlund, Kuhn was "a very unhappy young man." Still, while Kuhn will undoubtedly be remembered more for his music than his lyrics, the stream of consciousness nature of some of his poetry is compelling enough, and certainly substantial enough to give Jordan, a deeply expressive singer, plenty to work with.
Despite the inherently more structured form of Playground, when Jordan sits out and the trio gets the chance to expand, there's plenty of the bold impressionism and powerful drama of the trio's work in Ecstasy. "Gentle Thoughts" may largely be a ballad, but its ending is filled with the same turbulence as that found on other discs in the set, just performed in a more controlled fashion.
The group also swings more, and while ECM at that time in particular was known for its almost intentional avoidance of such traditional markers, in the context of Kuhn's music it worked because it was only a part of what he was doing. Still, "Gentle Thoughts," which begins as a rubato duet between Kuhn and Jordan that finds the singer at her subtlest and most nuanced, ultimately kicks into an amiable, mid-tempo swing for Kuhn's lazy, behind-the-beat solo that's sparer and more percussive than usual as Jordan occasional joins in for some in tandem improvisation.
Swartz's opening solo on "Poem for No. 15" leads into a duet with Jordan that may well have been the germination of future, more exclusive duet efforts. Regardless, the song ultimately morphs into another example of Kuhn's ability to create dynamic juxtaposition, impressively bolstered by Swartz and Moses, who again act as equal partners rather than simply supporting roles. "Deep Tango" receives a lengthier treatment than on Motility, with Jordan's wry delivery matching Kuhn's clever lyrics and the trio's buoyant performance. Curiously, while Kuhn's lyrics to "Life's Backward Glance" on Trance take the form of a spoken word narrative that sets up the music to follow as a story to be told, here it's done in reverse--the instrumental intro takes up more than half the tune's five minute duration, with Jordan entering close to the song's end with a completely different set of lyrics that more directly address its title.
The group's follow-up, which, like Non-Fiction, will hopefully see first-time issue on CD as well before long, changes the complexion--a set of ten tunes, only half of which are Kuhn's--making Playground significant as the only album to focus exclusively on the pianist's music and lyrics. Playground's exclusivity also makes it the perfect match for Motility and Ecstasy. Combining these three albums in one box undeniably helps get out some of ECM's remaining discs yet to see the light of day on CD. But it's the box's emphasis on Kuhn the writer that makes Life's Backward Glances - Solo and Quartet an important release that will introduce an significant aspect of Kuhn's talent to an audience largely unaware that he's far more than a relentlessly talented interpreter of other peoples' material.
Tracks: CD1 (Ecstasy): Silver; Prelude in G; Ulla; Thoughts of a Gentleman/The Saga of Harrison Crabfeathers; Life's Backward Glance.
            CD2 (Motility): The Rain Forest; Oceans in the Sky; Catherine; Bittersweet Passages; Deep Tango; Motility/The Child is Gone; A Danse for One; Places I've Never Been.
            CD3 (Playground): Tomorrow's Son; Gentle Thoughts; Poem for No. 15; The Zoo; Deep Tango; Life's Backward Glance.
Steve Kuhn: piano; Steve Slagle: soprano and alto saxophones (CD2), flute (CD2); Harvie Swartz: double-bass (CD2, CD3); Michael Smith: drums (CD2); Sheila Jordan: voice (CD3); Bob Moses: drums (CD3).

Mostly Coltrane

Cover (Mostly Coltrane:Steve Kuhn Trio)

By Troy Collins
Mostly Coltrane is pianist Steve Kuhn's venerable ode to his onetime employer, John Coltrane, with whom he played for eight weeks in early 1960 at New York City's Jazz Gallery. Kuhn revisits those seminal days without ignoring Coltrane's later period advancements, extrapolating his controversial innovations with rare lyricism and tenderness--a uniquely beautiful tribute unencumbered by nostalgic sentimentality.
Mirroring the instrumentation of Coltrane's Classic Quartet, (which featured pianist McCoy Tyner, bassist Jimmy Garrison and drummer Elvin Jones), Kuhn is joined by his regular associate, bassist David Finck, veteran tenor saxophonist Joe Lovano, and in-demand drummer Joey Baron.
Expanding on the Classic Quartet's advancements in modal harmony and rhythmic displacement, Kuhn, Lovano, Finck and Baron balance individual expression with focused group interaction. Digging into these sonorous themes with simmering intensity, they expound on the original Quartet's collective spiritual fervor with restrained dynamics.
One of Coltrane's most elegant compositions, “Welcome” from Kulu Se Mama (Impulse!, 1965), opens the album, followed by an inspired version of “Song of Praise,” setting a stately tone for the majority of the session. Kuhn also returns to the standard tunes he played with Coltrane--”Central Park West,” “The Night Has a Thousand Eyes” and “I Want To Talk About You,” highlighting the quartet's congenial rapport and effervescent lyricism.
Surveying the untapped potential of Coltrane's late period, the quartet covers a number of recently discovered tunes. “Configuration” and “Jimmy's Mode” made their premier on Stellar Regions (Impulse!, 1967), posthumously released in 1994, while “Living Space” was recorded in 1965--with the album of the same name unreleased until 1998. Although the majority of this date elicits a serene, ruminative view of Coltrane's legacy, there are moments of unfettered bliss that acknowledge the master's move towards abstraction. “Configuration” is the most visceral--a bristling excursion fraught with Baron's pneumatic salvos, the leader's quicksilver cadences and Lovano's intervallic torrents.
Interestingly, Kuhn shares none of the stylistic traits of Coltrane's primary pianists, sounding unlike Tyner or Alice Coltrane. Kuhn's feathery touch and delicate, dancing filigrees amplify the melodious lyricism at the core of Coltrane's most impassioned work with a harmonic density that maintains crystalline clarity, even in the most frenetic passages. Kuhn's original contributions, “With Gratitude” and “Trance”--introspective solo piano meditations that ebb with timeless beauty--reveal the master's influence without resorting to imitation.
A heartfelt, regal homage to one of the idiom's most celebrated artists, Mostly Coltrane is a superlative tribute album, breathing new life into acknowledged masterworks.
Track Listing:
Welcome; Song of Praise; Crescent; I Want To Talk About You; The Night Has a Thousand Eyes; Living Space; Central Park West; Like Sonny; With Gratitude; Configuration; Jimmy's Mode; Spiritual; Trance.
Steve Kuhn: piano; Joe Lovano: tenor saxophone, tarogato; David Finck: bass; Joey Baron: drums.

Live At Birdland

Cover (Live at Birdland:Steve Kuhn)

by Jeff Tamarkin
Steve Kuhn has been recording professionally for close to five decades, most of which time he's operated stealthily, rarely achieving the level of recognition he so richly deserves for contributing his immaculate pianistry to a range of jazz greats who have included John Coltrane, Stan Getz, Ornette Coleman, Art Farmer and others, or for leading his own diverse bands. In the mid-'80s Kuhn worked briefly in a trio setting with bassist extraordinaire Ron Carter and drummer Al Foster, cutting a pair of releases, The Vanguard Date and Life's Magic. Two decades later, that trio reconvened at New York's Birdland, and this exquisite aural document of their performance serves as a reminder that, at close to 70, Kuhn is one of jazz piano's unheralded giants. He is as sharp, imaginative and dexterous as he was during his younger years, and with Carter and Foster he is at home -- the musicians reportedly didn't rehearse for these shows, yet they sound as if they'd been at one another's sides for the past 20 years. At Birdland, the trio revisited four compositions that appeared on the earlier albums: Kuhn's own "Clotilde" and "Two by Two," Carter's "Little Waltz" and the Fats Waller standard "Jitterbug Waltz," the latter deconstructed into an 11-minute tour de force that, like much of the music in the set, allows the three musicians to explore a number of tempos, moods and tones. Kuhn, Carter and Foster alternately strut individually and lock intuitively into an airtight groove that takes surprising and pleasing twists before returning to the initial theme. Whether on the opening track, Frank Loesser's "If I Were a Bell," the fusing of Debussy's "La Plus Que Lente" and Billy Strayhorn's "Passion Flower," or the closer, Charlie Parker's "Confirmation," Kuhn establishes a template with light and sensitively executed solo figures before opening things up for all to take off to places unknown. There's a fine balance of simplicity and complexity at work here, but perhaps because he no longer needs to prove anything at this stage in his career, Kuhn seems to have lightened up -- the experimentalism of his ECM period has given way to an approach that is, while still at times blindingly intense, simultaneously light and playful. It's not a bad place for a master to be. 

Two By 2

Cover (Two by Two:Steve Kuhn)

by Michael G. Nastos
The verve of a duet recording between pianist Steve Kuhn and electric bass guitarist Steve Swallow cannot be underestimated. An inherent telepathy, shared concern for beauty, and high level of musicianship should lead one to believe, on paper, that this would be a perfect joining, and indeed it is. So many outstanding pieces highlight this disc, especially considering they play no standards. Of Kuhn's compositions, you get the stunning "Deep Tango," with its stop-start tendencies, and Kuhn vocally reciting "Poem for #15" (never previously recorded with the verse), also known as "The Saga of Harrison Crabfeathers." Both of these classics were previously heard on the ECM recording Playground, which Kuhn did in collaboration with Sheila Jordan. There's the bluesy title selection, the fun "Mr. Calypso Kuhn" (rivaling the Sonny Rollins evergreen "St. Thomas"), and the utterly gorgeous "Gentle Thoughts." Swallow assimilates legitimate single-string high-octave guitar leads on "Deep Tango" and "Gentle Thoughts," but sticks with traditional basslines on most of the record, and he is an unquestioned master at that. His compositional contributions are his more famous than ever melody of "Eiderdown" (a great rendition), the noir drama samba "Ladies in Mercedes" (popularized by Carla Bley), and the spirit waltz "Remember." All pieces are played with a modern luster and shine rivaling a mirror-like polished piece of chrome. Whether pristine and pretty, pensive and moody, or bright and bouncy, Kuhn and Swallow consistently deliver a timeless recording that should stand all tests of time, and is definitely recommended. 

Oceans In The Sky

Cover (Oceans in the Sky:Steve Kuhn)

By Dr. Judith Schlesinger
Recorded in 1989 for Owl Records and finally reissued, Oceans in the Sky is a timeless gem from impressionistic veteran pianist Steve Kuhn. Although he was John Coltrane's original pianist and worked with Stan Getz and Art Farmer, Kuhn's detour into electric piano, commercial music and accompaniment (most notably for Sheila Jordan) has to some extent diluted his pedigree. It's good to be reminded of his gifts, which include lyricism and taste and composition; his title track is powerful and harmonically intriguing, and “Ulla” is lovely.
Kuhn's tastefulness is also evident in his choice of, and approach to, material. Frank Lacey's thoughtful and pretty “Theme for Ernie” is rarely covered; the Jobim he picks is “Angela,” one of the less hackneyed in the pantheon; and he gives a new pulse to “The Island.” Being a third-stream fan, I especially enjoyed how he wove Debussy's “La Plus Que Lente” into a samba version of Ellington's “Passion Flower” with no seams showing; he also pairs “His Is the Only Music That Makes Me Dance” with Satie's “Gymnopedie,” while straining all the Streisand schmaltz out of Jule Syne's beautiful Broadway showstopper.
Kuhn swings hard on Dorham's “Lotus Blossom” and subtly on Brubeck's “In Your Own Sweet Way.” Drummer Aldo Romano contributes the pretty “Do” as well as sensitive and unobtrusive percussion. It's good that Miroslav Vitous is a strong bassist, since Kuhn tends to lean towards the treble side of things. Oceans in the Sky is an understated and graceful outing – delicious.
Track Listing:
The Island, Lotus Blossom, La Plus Que Lente [Debussy]/Passion Flower, Do, Oceans in the Sky Theme for Ernie, Angela, In Your Own Sweet Way, Ulla, The Music That Makes Me Dance
Steve Kuhn (piano), Miroslav Vitous (bass), Aldo Romano (drums)

Promises Kept

Cover (Promises Kept:Steve Kuhn)

By Mark Saleski from Something Else! 2011
I can probably count on the fingers of one hand the number of jazz “with strings” records that 'work' for me. This is a somewhat mysterious phenomenon as jazz and improvised music is food to me. As necessary as oxygen. Along those lines, a good string quartet is a thing not only of beauty ... it is beauty.
But then you go and mix these things together and, well, they don't wanna mix. Here I'm thinking of many of the musics labeled “Third Stream.” This was jazz mixed with classical. In its more knotty forms it was a load of fun. But sometimes, that stuff just didn't want to be blended and the result was dense, turgid and waaaay too serious. There are of course, counterexamples in jazz. Take Charlie Parker with Strings. It's basically flawless. I mean, it is Charlie Parker.
So, you might be thinking: Steve Kuhn? Yeah, not exactly a household name to the casual jazz fan. This is too bad though, as Kuhn has written some fantastic music over the years and has played and recorded with an impressive list of jazz stars including Kenny Dorham, John Coltrane, Stan Getz, Art Farmer, Steve Swallow, Tom Harrell and Joey Baron.
Promises Kept features seven new compositions written with string arrangements in mind, as well as three older Kuhn pieces reworked for that context. What makes this album 'work' is Kuhn's romantic and expressive melodies and chord structures. The melodies, with Kuhn at the piano, really do 'tell a story.' So much so that the string arrangements fit effortlessly. This was not accidental. From Bob Blumenthal's (excellent as always) liner notes:
"  While the rhythmic power of his music is represented by “Trance” and “Oceans in the Sky,” it is the emotion in Kuhn's melodies that is the focal point here. “As I've gotten older and gone through deaths and losses, as well as open heart surgery, and at the same time come to appreciate the love and the positive influences in my life, I find myself responding more emotionally.”
Kuhn goes on to say that the strings seem to bring out the emotion in the music. I couldn't agree more. This is a sort of musical travelog through Steve Kuhn's life. It obviously means a lot to him, but we can all take something from it.

by Thom Jurek
The lineup on Promises Kept says it all: Steve Kuhn with strings. Kuhn is a jazz pianist whose recordings may have been out of the jazz mainstream for most of the five decades his career has spanned, but it hardly matters. Kuhn's style is signature, though his explorations have taken him to many different terrains in the world of jazz, from knotty post-bop to pointillism and modalism and through the nefarious world of 20th century vanguard composition to the place where listeners find him now: the place of a supreme and unabashed lyricism that is as sophisticated and forward-looking as it is historical and inclusive. Bassist David Finck is also present here; his trademark loping style has been a fixture on Kuhn's recordings since 1986. Conducted and orchestrated by Carlos Franzetti, this 15-piece string orchestra offers a lush yet poignant collaborative sphere for Kuhn to work his considerable harmonic magic. Kuhn composed all ten pieces. Some are well-known items in his oeuvre; others were written specifically for this recording. They vary in range, mood, texture, and depth of field. The album opens with "Lullaby," its sheer nocturnal elegance kissed by quiet joy. The bittersweet emotionalism of his classic "Life's Backward Glance" becomes a credo for the entire album. Beginning with a series of brooding washes by the cellos and tempered by a pastoral reflective series of chords and ostinatos, it becomes the haunted song of reverie as tempered by a sense of the fleeting present. "Trance" offers an elongated string introduction, whereby the feeling of time's suspension pervades in the violas and cellos until the repetitive, songlike melody line slips into the middle between them and the violins caress the entire mix. Here romanticism and jazz entwine in the body of Kuhn's harmonic structures, shimmering through a luxuriant mirror of musical history. And the title track, an homage to Kuhn's Hungarian immigrant parents, waltzes and glides between Old Europe and a far more romantic vision of America than exists today. It is formal and carries within it a wistful kind of romanticism that is seldom heard in modern music. In sum, this is one of the finest recordings Kuhn has ever issued. Simply put, for all the decades spent adventuring on the boundaries where various traditions blur, the pianist and composer articulate direct emotion as the most effective communicator here, no matter what terrain is navigated in form. A breathtaking and intimate outing, this is a career-topping effort. 

Looking Back

Cover (Looking Back:Steve Kuhn)

by Ken Dryden
Steve Kuhn is in a fun-loving mood on this trio date from 1990, accompanied by bassist David Finck and drummer Lewis Nash. His one original of the session, "Looking Back," is full of humorous moments in a driving post-bop setting, and his lagging a bit behind the beat while giving Dave Brubeck's "The Duke" a bit of an oriental sound at times is almost tongue-in-cheek. But not everything is played with a twinkle in his eye; "Stella by Starlight" is lush and dramatic, as is Michel Colombier's pretty ballad "Emmanuel." Kuhn captures the droll mood of the golden oldie "Gee Baby, Ain't I Good to You" with a campy, almost country-flavored approach. This is an outstanding date by a veteran musician who's always deserving of wider recognition for his efforts. 

Live At Maybeck Recital Hall, Volume Thirteen

Cover (Live at Maybeck Recital Hall, Vol. 13:Steve Kuhn)

by Ken Dryden
Steve Kuhn is generally not thought of as a solo pianist because he has rarely recorded in that format, but this 1990 concert at Maybeck Recital Hall is one of his most memorable releases. "Old Folks" is a chestnut favored by a lot of swing and bop pianists, but Kuhn's unique approach to it explores a larger range of the keyboard than most players, while powering it with a striding bassline that alternates a lot more than one would expect. He has a lot of fun introducing Miles Davis' "Solar," at first playing around with what sounds like a Scottish dirge and sneaking into a bit of the song while giving it an Oriental flavor, before getting down to business. Both "I Remember You" and "Autumn in New York" are long but fascinating interpretations, as the pianist deconstructs and rebuilds each of them with very fresh approaches. This very satisfying concert CD is well-worth acquiring. 

Years Later

Cover (Years Later:Steve Kuhn)

by Ken Dryden
Steve Kuhn shares some of his personal favorites, joined by bassist David Finck and drummer Lewis Nash during this 1992 studio session. Branislaw Kaper's "Gloria's Theme" is an overlooked gem originally written for the movie Butterfield 8; the trio's strutting take exudes a confident air. The pianist reworks "Upper Manhattan Medical Group" into a bop setting, while occasionally adding tension equal to awaiting a doctor's opinion. "In a Sentimental Mood" is rather deliberate, enhancing its already romantic quality. "Sometime Ago," a piece beloved by both Art Farmer and Bill Evans, is also slowed down considerably, showcasing its lyrical theme with a beautiful solo by Finck. In addition to inspired treatments of Tadd Dameron's "Good Bait," Mal Waldron's "Soul Eyes," and Mel Tormé's "Born to Be Blue," his original "Years Later" is an absolute treat. Recommended. 

Seasons Of Romance

Cover (Seasons of Romance:Steve Kuhn)

By Glenn Astarita
The great jazz pianist Steve Kuhn tackles well-known standards and not so familiar compositions by performers such as Brazilian guitarist Dori Caymmi, bassist Steve Swallow and a contribution from saxophonist Bob Mintzer on Seasons of Romance.
The opener, saxophonist Bob Mintzer's piece titled, “Six Gun” is an ebullient, mid-tempo swing while Kuhn's easily-recognizable or patented elegance and signature style is notably portrayed from the onset. Kuhn's flair and casual poise ride atop the skillful rhythmic articulations by veteran and highly esteemed bassist George Mraz in collaboration with the inimitable jazz session drummer, Al Foster. Here, Kuhn's intelligent comping and sweeping lines aid Mintzer's breezy and lyrically rich tenor sax solo. Kuhn displays his romantic side on Dori Caymmi's touching, “Romance” while trumpeter Tom Harrell joins Kuhn, Mraz and Foster on his original composition, “Visions of Gaudi.” The trumpeter's majestic yet smooth, sleek tone and poignant phrasing equalize Kuhn's reflective or soul-searching performance as they comfortably dance through another persuasively memorable composition. Kuhn is in stellar form on Steve Swallow's piece, “Remember” while demonstrating impeccable technique and emotive characteristics via stylish utilization of tremolo, subtle inflections, swirling chord progressions yet most of all, the remarkable synergy he and Harrell enjoy as the primary soloists. Kuhn directs the rhythms with an active left hand on his swinging original “Looking Back” as the pianist and Harrell once again engage in smooth, airy interplay while Kuhn pushes and prods the band in a quiet sort of way!
Steve Kuhn's remarkable inventiveness, truly distinctive sound and style, melodic gifts and cultivated approach place him among the vanguard of modern day jazz pianists. Seasons of Romance proves that notion in elevated fashion!
Steve Kuhn: piano: Bob Mintzer: tenor saxophone; Tom Harrell: trumpet; George Mraz: bass; Al Foster: drums.

Remembering Tomorrow

Cover (Remembering Tomorrow:Steve Kuhn)

by Leonardo Barroso
I met my friend, Mr. Carlinhos C.B., at a local record shop, and while he was checking out some cd's, there was a copy of Steve Kuhn "Remembering Tomorrow", from ECM.
He asked me if it was good ? I told him that if there was only one to buy, Mr. Kuhn' s was the right choice.
All songs are originals from SK, except the track "Emmanuel"; each one beautifully played by the pianist, in company of two super musicians: bassist David Finck and drummer Joey Baron, by the way this is one Mr. Baron's best recording, it's just superb !
This recording is a true masterpiece ! A great trio at their peak !
If you don't know this release, I urge you to buy, clone, borrow, etc.
A must have !!!!


Cover (Dedication:Steve Kuhn)

by Ken Dryden
The first of Steve Kuhn's several CDs for Reservoir is a multifaceted trio session with bassist David Finck and drummer Billy Drummond. Kuhn opens with a pair of enjoyable originals, the gliding post-bop "Dedication" and "The Zoo," cast as a melancholy bossa nova. He does justice to two compositions by bassist Steve Swallow, the well-known "Eiderdown" and the more obscure "Please Let Me Go," both of which prominently feature Finck's superb playing. His fresh, somewhat darker approach to Kenny Dorham's catchy "Blue Bossa" starts subtly but grows in intensity. Nor does the leader ignore standards. His bright, swinging take of "It's You or No One," the lush setting of "For Heaven's Sake," and a loping waltz treatment of "Like Someone in Love " all merit high praise. 


Cover (Countdown:Steve Kuhn)

by Michael G. Nastos
A neglected figure in the overall scheme of modern jazz, perhaps this magnificent recording from the veteran pianist Kuhn will somewhat salve that wound. He is masterfully impressionistic, skillful as any, extra-lyrical, and his talent is in full array with substantive help from bassist David Finck and drummer Billy Drummond. In his flowery liner notes, Rafi Zabor refers to Kuhn's sound as that of utter "refracted beauty" -- a concise and apt a description for Kuhn's consistently brilliant musings. The bulk of the program is standards, reharmonized as the quick-witted John Coltrane title track, the lilting endless melody streams tacked on to "Four," or the "Milestones"-tagged version of "Speak Low" showing that as Kuhn is deep, he's also clever. Adapting "Why Did I Choose You?" as if walking on eggshells with a slight samba beat, Kuhn's dancing figures are steps he invents. Finck's singing bass solo accents the laid-back Benny Carter evergreen "When Lights Are Low," and Kuhn's take on "She's Funny That Way" expands further on this already exceptional melody. There are three of Kuhn's originals, totaling a mere 12 minutes. A recap on the piece from his Sheila Jordan phase, "Last Year's Waltz" gets a regret-filled rubato treatment seen through lavender-colored glasses. "Chalet" is as elegiac as any snow covered mountain home, while "Tomorrow's Son" is a rhapsodic, free entity with more cascading piano. Steve Swallow's "Wrong Together" is also included, weeping with even-keeled swing and repeated inquisitions as to why. This music clearly inspires all kinds of lush, regal imagery. It is Kuhn at his best, one of the more soul-stirring piano trio CDs of recent hearing, and a joy to listen to more than just once. 

The Best Things

Cover (The Best Things:Steve Kuhn)

By C. Andrew Hovan
For the past several years, the Reservoir label’s New York Piano Series has been the forum for some of the best piano trio records in recent memory. Although earlier presenters in the cycle included Kenny Barron, Rob Schneiderman, John Hicks, and Hod O’Brien, Reservoir has really hit a gold mine by signing on Steve Kuhn. Although not as well known as let’s say Hank Jones or Tommy Flanagan, Kuhn is equally proficient at exploiting the piano trio format for all it’s worth.
A superb follow-up to his previous two Reservoir sides, Dedication and Countdown (both come highly recommended if you don’t already own them), the trio assembled for The Best Things is a working band with David Finck on bass and Billy Drummond on drums. These three men were all on the same page after the week in the clubs that preceded this recording session and you can tell that they delved into the material, hand-selecting new phrases and developing a three-way conversation that reveals true craftsmanship of the highest order.
A highly original player, Kuhn’s style is characterized by a synthesis that takes the best of the be-bop language and borrows emotionally and structurally from such contemporary composers as Bartok, Milhaud, Stravinsky, and the like. A case in point, Kuhn’s marvelous re-working of Bird’s “Confirmation,” which opts for an opening that recalls a proper British march (maybe Percy Grainger?), only later to ignite with furious bop-inflected passages and Drummond’s solo fireworks. By contrast, “A Portrait of Jennie” is delicate bliss, Kuhn’s statements unfolding with sophistication and poise. The closing “Adagio” also should be mentioned, as it makes thoughtful use of Luciana Souza’s wordless vocals, Norma Winstone’s comparable work with Kenny Wheeler being an obvious influence.
Great jazz, such as this, always maintains its longevity because each new hearing reveals added nuances and further pleasures. While forgiving the obvious pun, The Best Things certainly lives up to its title while currently holding its position as one of the best piano trio discs to come along in 2000.
Track Listing:
The Best Things in Life Are Free, Luiza, Two By Two, Portrait of Jennie, Confirmation, Poem For #15, Adagio (53:48)
Steve Kuhn- piano, David Finck- bass, Billy Drummond- drums, Luciana Souza- vocal (track #7 only)


Cover (Pastorale:Steve Kuhn)

By Brandt Reiter
Though he's been an inimitable sideman for jazz legends like John Coltrane, Stan Getz and Arts Farmer and Blakey and though he's been leading his own first-rate groups for decades, Steve Kuhn has never become a household name. Like his frequent (and equally idiosyncratic) collaborator Sheila Jordan, he's better known abroad than here, both in Europe and Japan--which is where this new disc comes in. For Pastorale, actually, is not new--it's the overdue American release of a superb trio session done five years ago for the Japanese label Venus, under the title Waltz (Red Light). That Sunnyside has taken it upon itself to release it here and at a reasonable price (until now, it was only available as a costly import) is a terrific service to both Kuhn and his listeners. The only complaint is, what took so long?
Kuhn's dabbled in many forms over his forty-year career but the one that seems dearest to his heart is the classic bop trio, as defined by Bill Evans in the early 1960s. (In Getz's group, Kuhn played alongside Evans' genius bassist Scott LaFaro, and the experience deeply marked him.) Evans, in fact, can be heard all over Pastorale: in the close adhesion of the players; in the disc's lovely, swinging lyricism; and in the easy, forward flow of the music. The presence of Eddie Gomez, who logged a decade with Evans after LaFaro's tragic death, only brings the late, great jazz idol further to mind.
And yet, as strong as the Evans influence is, it's a touchstone and nothing more; on Pastorale--as always--Kuhn remains steadfastly himself. Even at his most sweepingly romantic--as on Walter Donaldson's “I'll Take Romance or the wistful Kuhn title composition which closes the disc--Kuhn never slips into sentimentality. (Indeed, few other pianists could invest Henry Mancini's “Charade with this much melancholy and not have it drift into shameless self-pity.) And the joyous, tripping swing that floats standards like Irving Berlin's “Remember and Jack King's “How Am I To Know has a plush ebullience that's all Kuhn's own.
Anyone who has seen Kuhn live knows the jaw-dropping fireworks of which he's capable. Pastorale, in contrast, is a quiet disc, never rising above a mid-tempo lilt. But it doesn't have to. Listen closely and all the same Kuhn pyrotechnics are subtly there: the abrupt tempo changes within a single measure; the sudden plonking of a sole, indispensable note; the razor-sharp harmonic intelligence; the formalist's attention to space and dynamics; the deep dollops of blues; the tossed-off, tightly crunched flourish. And, no surprise, he's exquisitely matched here by old hand Gomez, whose solos are models of graceful conciseness and veteran skinsman Billy Drummond, who punctuates and colors with wondrous elegance. In sixty minutes there's barely a wasted note and the three musicians play with the telepathic rapport that's both expected and essential in this kind of work.
Track Listing:
Charade; Remember; Years Later; Once Upon A Summertime; How Am I To Know?; My Buddy; I'll Take Romance; I'm Glad There Is You; Pastorale.
Steve Kuhn: piano; Eddie Gomez: Bass; Billy Drummond: drums.