Album Remarks & Appraisals:
All About Jazz - John Kelman
Context, they say, is everything. With nearly 50 albums as a leader in a career that now spans 55 years - and stints with everyone from saxophonist Stan Getz and flugelhornist Art Farmer to trumpeter Kenny Dorham...even a brief stint with saxophonist John Coltrane - pianist Steve Kuhn's best and most varied work has been across the now-ten albums recorded for ECM. You need only look to Life's Backward Glances: Solo and Quartet (ECM, 2008) - the box collecting 1975's solo piano outing, Ecstasy; 1977's Motility, with his Ecstasy group; and 1980's Playground, the first of two recordings with singer Sheila Jordan - for a localized example of Kuhn's far-reaching outlook on the label that brought transparency and pristine sonic clarity to the jazz world.
Wisteria looks like a standard piano trio outing in contrast to the stellar Mostly Coltrane (ECM, 2009), Kuhn's tribute to his erstwhile employer, with Joe Lovano more than ably filling the tenor chair with a distinctly personal approach. But with electric bassist Steve Swallow replacing Kuhn trio regular, double bassist David Fincke, Wisteria becomes something else again. Sure, Swallow does what a bassist should do (should do, being a dangerous phrase when used to describe players of this caliber): anchor the groove and swing with aplomb. But his warm electric instrument, so often played in the upper register, often crosses into guitar range, making Swallow a more pervasive melodic foil for Kuhn - and one who, like Kuhn, has, by this time in his own 50-plus year career, got nothing left to prove. Likewise drummer Joey Baron, at 56 the relative babe of the group despite collaborating with Kuhn since 1996's Remembering Tomorrow (ECM). ... read more...
Personnel: Steve Kuhn (piano); Joey Baron (drums).
Liner Note Author: Steve Kuhn .
Recording information: Avatar Studios, NY (09/2011).
Photographer: John Rogers .
Steve Kuhn has excelled in many settings in a career spanning over five decades, but he is at his best leading a trio. Like many top pianists, Kuhn interacts with his musicians rather than relegating them exclusively to the role of accompanists. By the time of this 2011 record date, he had worked with bassist Steve Swallow at various times for over a half-century and with drummer Joey Baron for over 20 years, but this marked their first recording together as a trio. Swallow's sublime lyrical bass is always a welcome addition, while Baron has contributed to recordings by a diverse range of stylists. Kuhn contributed many of the songs, highlighted by his lyrical samba "Adagio" and the glistening, light-hearted "Morning Dew." He also revisits several of his best compositions recorded for previous projects: the lush ballad "Romance," the whispered "Pastorale" with Swallow playing lead in the introduction as Kuhn plays soft chords behind him and Baron's light touch on brushes providing the perfect accent, along with the mellow yet hip "Promises Kept." Swallow's compositions are frequently used by leaders with whom he works. His "Dark Glasses" opens with a mysterious air but shifts quickly into a bright bossa nova. One can only imagine the inspiration for the title to "Good Lookin' Rookie," and this breezy number doesn't disappoint, with Kuhn's driving piano and Swallow's intricate bass solo, along with Baron's drum breaks. Highly recommended! ~ Ken Dryden
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