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
Personnel: Steve Kuhn (piano), Miroslav Vitous (bass), Aldo Romano (drums)
Author of "The Insanity Hoax: Exposing the myth of the mad genius," Dr. J combines her love of jazz and her fascination with psychology, focusing on where they overlap: in celebrating the individual spirit.