An excellent example of post-modern musicianship, drummer Tim Kuhl has led a diverse career since relocating to New York City in 2003. A classically trained percussionist, he has held a steady residency in the East Village with his jazz ensemble and played with a slew of rock bands, including The Izzys, The Junkman Band, Less Than Treason, and Magnets for Teeth.
King, his second album as a leader, features the powerhouse front line of tenor saxophonist Jon Irabagon, trombonist Rick Parker, and the dual electric guitars of Nir Felder and Ryan Mackstaller. Bassist Aidan Carroll joins Kuhl as a stalwart rhythm section partner, providing the front line with a firm but pliant foundation that ranges from lilting swing to throttling backbeats. Playing a magnanimous leadership role, Kuhl solos infrequently, supporting the expressive flights of his stellar soloists rather than stealing the limelight.
An adept songwriter, Kuhl's memorable melodies are bolstered by rich harmonies and unfussy arrangements. Weaving the emotionally direct tunefulness of rock music with lush jazz harmonies and the spaciousness of chamber music, his writing ignores genre boundary lines while maintaining a singular thematic focus.
Gracefully transitioning between moods, his sextet interprets these infectious tunes with a mix of unfettered zeal and eloquent restraint. At their most impassioned, Irabagon's tortuous tenor runs and Parker's staccato trombone cadences provide ample drama, complemented by Felder and Mackstaller's scorching fretwork and the rhythm section's unwavering drive. Blistering swing is only one of many nuanced facets revealed by Kuhl's multi-dimensional writing however.
The languid "Kiss of Death" is awash in opulent melancholy, while "The Defender of Time" massages a bittersweet refrain, intermittently amplified by brisk modulations in tempo and tone. "Phantasm" ascends into Hendrixian territory with fervent electricity and a rousing turn from Parker's blustery horn while Irabagon's vociferous tenor volleys on "The Opposition," ride a careening rhythm to roiling climax. Book-ended by complementary atmospheres, King opens with the soaring ebullience of the title track and closes with the effervescent funk of "Stars," forbearers of great things to come from an impressive new voice.
Personnel: Tim Kuhl: drums; Jon Irabagon: tenor saxophone; Rick Parker: trombone; Nir Felder: guitar; Ryan Mackstaller: guitar; Aidan Carroll: bass.