Experiencing a sort of re-discovery as of late, pianist Steve Kuhn has finally made a path to wider visibility. Of course, Kuhn has largely spent most of his career on the fringes. He was John Coltrane's first pianist before McCoy Tyner came along. His own recordings over the years have featured a style that is singularly his own, not too avant-garde but certainly not cocktail lounge piano either. His wonderful series of recordings for ECM during the late '70s and early '80s were largely overlooked upon issue and now are sadly unavailable. But getting back to that path, Kuhn has recently put out his second piano trio date for the Reservoir label and like its predecessor, Dedication, it's chock full of complexity and substance, yet also very inviting and accessible.
The title track that gives the album its name is of course the John Coltrane chops buster and it finds Kuhn in an incendiary mood, yet one senses that it's all done without even breaking a sweat. The same could be said of the pianist's version of "Four", which unfolds in chorus after chorus of brilliant logic. Most apparent on the several ballad performances where the harmonic sophistication tips a hat to Bill Evans, Kuhn also puts on display that marvelous bell-like tone of his, caught beautifully on tape by master engineer Rudy Van Gelder. In addition to the cuts already mentioned you'll find a few more standards and three choice Kuhn compositions, including the minor gem "Last Year's Waltz."
Much should be said too in regards to Kuhn's associates here. They are actually a working group and the empathy they share is apparent. A great deal of the success of this and the previous Reservoir set is due to the complexity of communication that goes on between Kuhn and bassist David Finck and drummer Billy Drummond. For those familiar with Drummond's more aggressive style as heard on many a Criss Cross Jazz side you'll be in for a treat when you hear how his already musical drumming is tailored perfectly to fit Kuhn's various moods. Drummond's is an art based on the various colors and textures available from the drum kit and he's so perfectly meshed with Kuhn that at times it's downright uncanny.
As part of Reservoir's distinguished New York Piano series, Countdown is a step forward for Kuhn and a valuable addition to this independent's small but substantial catalog.
Personnel: Steve Kuhn, piano; David Finck, bass; Billy Drummond, drums
Track Listing: Countdown, Chalet, Last Year's Waltz, Wrong Together, Four, Why Did I Choose You?, When Lights Are Low, She's Funny That Way, Speak Low, Tomorrow's Son