If Steve Kuhn's name does not immediately spring to mind when considering the most talented pianists on the jazz scene today, this album should change that. Live at Birdland, with bassist Ron Carter and drummer Al Foster confirms that jazz is first and foremost an art of live performance. This disc also demonstrates how the magic of such a performance can be captured and shared in a fine recording.
The set list, at first glance is unremarkable, including several standards. One test of such a choice is performing a song considered a warhorse in a way that does not remind us how many times we've heard it before, but rather how many times we would like to hear this version again. Kuhn, Carter and Foster do that with, "If I Were A Bell," and "Jitterbug Waltz," to name two. A song not done so often, or not frequently in a trio context, such as "Slow Hot Wind" makes us wonder why others don't perform it. That Henry Mancini tune, to my mind, is associated primarily with vocalists including Johnny Hartman, whose version is a classic. In the hands of this trio it is a revelation.
One is reluctant to single out other performances from the set because each has something to recommend it. But the combination of Debussy and Strayhorn in "La Plus Que Lente/Passion Flower," deserves special mention. It is an inventive mix of romanticism that reminds us how much great music has in common despite somewhat disparate sources.
Kuhn, Carter and Foster have worked together before and it shows. Ashley Kahn's highly readable liner notes remind us this same trio performed at the Village Vanguard 20 years earlier. Time has only burnished the art of all three men, both as individual performers and, more importantly as an outstanding combination. Live at Birdland is a compelling disc that amply rewards with repeated listens.
Personnel: Steve Kuhn: piano; Ron Carter: bass; Al Foster: drums.