~ Andrey Henkin
If one were putting together a time capsule and wanted a representative for the quintessential jazz piano trio at the turn of the 21st century, Steve Kuhn's group with Ron Carter on bass and Al Foster on drums would be a good candidate. And at Birdland on Jul. 7th, the three may have had posterity in mind more than usual, since they were making a live recording for Blue Note Records. Everything was impeccably first-rate, but may have been too perfectthere was a sense of the trio playing things safe and not taking chances and not until the set-closer, a burning tear through Sonny Rollins' "Airegin", did they create a feeling of dangerous exhilaration, as if the music just might spin out of control and crash. About half the set was standards and Kuhn began things with an interesting take on "There Is No Greater Love": a classical feel, generated by half-step trills in the piano over a long pedal point in the bass, gave way to solid swing with Foster dancing nimbly atop the snare drum. The love theme continued with "Like Someone In Love", where Carter interjected colorful double-stop glissandos up and down the neck of the bass throughout his solo. Kuhn's original "Clotilde", originally a bossa nova, became a minor-key ballad in waltz time"same tune, different time signature," he told the crowd. On Steve Swallow's "Ladies In Mercedes", the trio showed how rhythmically attuned they were, echoing and anticipating each other's kicks mid-solo.
In a perfect world, there would be two columns about "Brilliant Corners", the 92nd Street Y's Jazz in July tribute to the music of Thelonious Monkone column about the majority of the Jul. 20th concert and one dedicated solely to Wynton Marsalis and Bill Charlap's astoundingly moving duet on "'Round Midnight". But then again, their riveting performance was a better answer to the question "what is jazz?" than a 1,000 words on the subject. Marsalis spoke, sighed and wailed with breathy phrases that were so evocative one could practically hear the rumble of an el train outside, while Charlap's touch was impossibly soft yet rhythmically crisp. The rest of the performers were no slouches themselves. Trumpeter Jeremy Pelt joined on several numbers, including "Four in One", where he and Marsalis treated the crowd to some old-fashioned sparring. While they began like teammates, handing off ideas as if from one trumpet bell to another, they soon became heavyweight opponents, unleashing blistering runs with horns pointed at each other. There were lots of smiles too. Steve Nelson on vibraphone was alternately deliberate and impulsive in his phrasing and delivered a blues-drenched solo on "Blue Monk". Pianist Cedar Walton provided some nicely un-Monk-like arrangements, including some heavy funk lines within "Off Minor" and a polytonal tweak to "Blue Monk". Lewis Nash (drums), Peter Washington (bass) and Jimmy Greene (tenor) formed the rest of the all-star ensemble.
~ Brian Lonergan