European Jazz Jamboree 2009
Kühn displayed originality in a spectrum of music, from his working small Tri-O group in the first set (guitarist Ronny Graupe, bassist Johannes Fink and drummer Christian Lillinger, and joined by Joachim as well as trumpeter Matthias Schrieffl) to the second set's dedication (with the NDR Big Band) to one of his original influences, Benny Goodman. Graupe, the quartet's "second voice," was comfortably given prominent space by the leader on each the first set's tune selections, all originals taken exclusively from material found on the group's debut and sophomore releasesRollercoaster and Close Up (both on Jazzwerkstatt). His "Caneveral" opened the set, its airy minute-long rumbling prologue giving way after a brief pause to demanding clarinet-guitar lines. The two hornmen in fleet-fingered unison worked surprisingly well in tandem. A frenetic, busy single-note specialist, the guitarist's style nicely contrasted the almost modern classical approach of the leader whose emphasis was more on complimenting warm but daring elastic tones within the structure of each composition. The next two pieces ("29FF" and "Spacerunner"), both compositions by the leader which open the most recent Close Up, revealed a fine tuned and flexible balancing act of collective themes and individual improvisations.
The remainder of the set had Joachim joining the group on piano. For "Mamarazzi" and "Changing the Umbrella," the now quintet performed actually much of the time as a quartet if not a powerhouse trio (sans guitar), either bass-less or drum-less in sections, with Graupe tending not to play while the pianist was and vice versathus reinforcing the notion that two harmonic instruments don't necessarily make ideal bed fellows. Trumpeter (and also guest artist on the group's latest CD) Schriefl then joined, with the group becoming noticeably more experimental in their improvisations: Graupe took what looked like a long red chopstick, placing it under his guitar strings, then tapped it back and forth for an eerie springing musical effect; Schriefl, first muted then on open horn, avoided notes per se, rather blew through his instrument for sound effect, including sudden outbursts of blurts and growls.
The second set, the Benny Goodman centennial dedication, found Kühn fronting the NDR Big Band conducted by Jörg Achim Keller. Kühn is obviously graced with a Benny Goodman-like proclivity and influence of classical as much as jazz, naturally handling material from each with ease and imagination, as well as a youthful vigor and chops which he's developed and maintained since his first recordings in the late '40s. Perhaps as admirable as his diverse range of sounds was not only the open-eared programming of the Goodman set placed as the evening's last (following the clarinetist's small group and the parameter- stretching The Salmon duomore on that later), but the open ears in attendance who absorbed each end of the spectrum equally and provided perhaps the fullest house of the entire festival. Imagine a meeting of 92nd St. Y's "Jazz in July" program sprinkled into a night of the Vision Festival or vice versa and you have an idea of how unlikely this concept would be in New York.