Steve Korn: Here and Now
It's possible that the jazz fans of the next thousand years will revisit the Seattle sound at the turn of this century. If so, John Bishop's independent label, Origin Records, will enjoy a number of reissues. Representing a small circle of local players, Origin's catalog sports over a dozen releases, the most recent being one of the best: Steve Korn's "Here and Now."
For his initial recording as a leader Korn plays with two of his mentors and Origin alumniMarc Seales and Jim Knapp. Studying under Seales at the UW, Steve received a masters degree in '96, the same year he began drumming in Knapp's quintet. That group also happened to include saxophonist Rob Davis. Here Davis' tenor is heard to advantage as are the twin pillars of Jeff Johnson's acoustic bass and Dave Peterson's electric guitar. Undoubtedly, the chemistry of this sextet is its strongest recommendation.
Of particular note is Peterson. His guitar sings the melody on a third of the tunes, including soulful renditions of John Scofield's "V" and Korn's blissful ballad "Mary Michaelen." Steve explains, "I wanted to feature Dave because he's such a good player and nobody knows about him." If you haven't heard him, you should.
"Blue" starts things off spiritedly, the song that Korn claimed as his favorite. An up-tempo tune composed by Marc Seales, its form introduces each musician and gives everyone a chance to stretch. "Looking Ahead" was written by Jim Knapp and performed by his quintet that included Steve, Rob, Phil Sparks and John Hansen. Funny that Steve used to call it "Get Out of the Way." Needless to say it flies along and affords listeners our first welcome taste of drum solo. Showing command of the kit, and a soft, distinct touch, Korn caresses his drums between eight bar stanzas. On "Pendulum," too, we hear more of his solo playing. Even-spaced rolls rise and expire, exploding onto cymbals as one idea seamlessly fades to the next. No less impressive is that Korn, with three tunes to credit, proves himself a talented composer, a rarity for most drummers.
"Side Car" appeared on Miles Davis' "Circle in the Round" LP and that funky groove gets a workout, especially from Jeff Johnson who plays free time with the rhythm and then throws down a line like it's attached to an anchor. Another Knapp tune, "Come Back Trixie Friganza" displays a spacious, impressionistic beginning and gains momentum from Rob Davis' fiery tenor to become forceful and wholly unexpected. The final cut, "Mary Michaelen" reminded Steve of his mom after he wrote it and I have no doubt that she is a beautiful woman. Electric guitar and acoustic piano form the perfect balance for the butterfly wings that mark Korn's cymbal work. Peterson's touch and tone are peerless and at the same time incredibly relaxed. Marc Seales gives one of the loveliest solos that I have heard on record.
This review was previously published in Earshot Jazz magazine.