Steve Kuhn: Solo Piano
New York City
May 26, 2007
It was an almost balmy night in New York to start off this Memorial Day weekend as we strolled leisurely past Carnegie Hall and made our way to a small piano salon just down the street from the venerable concert hall. Tucked away at 211 West 58th Street, the Fazioli Salon, the brainchild of Jim and Genevieve Luce, is a treasure of a concept that deserves our attention and support. They simply bring together supremely accomplished pianists with a work of musical and visual art, the Fazioli piano, and showcase both in a limited and intimate setting. The room is inauspiciously in the rear of the Klavierhaus piano showroom, which showcases these rare Italian-made masterpieces. The size of the room limits the attendance to about twenty-five lucky individuals. Being one of the fortunate ones for this solo performance by pianist Steve Kuhn was, to say the least, a memorable experience.
Steve Kuhn is a major artist who tends to get overlooked by the jazz media and mainstream jazz fans. A contemporary of Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea and Keith Jarrett, Kuhn is a player in their league, responsible for numerous sterling performances over the years. His illustrious career includes stints with Kenny Dorham, Stan Getz, Art Farmer and briefly with John Coltrane. In the trio format, which features the empathetic interplay between piano and bass and which he demonstrably prefers, he has been joined by such luminary bass players as Scott La Faro, Miroslav Vitous, Steve Swallow, Buster Williams, Eddie Gomez, Gary Peacock, David Finck and Ron Carter. His discography is astounding in its depth and variety. With this infusion of musical influences, Kuhn has forged his own percussive style of playing that was wonderfully alive and vibrant during his solo performance at the Fazioli Salon.
In his dapper signature black pants and jacket, he was introduced by Jim Luce, the master of ceremonies, as the "maestro," a description he would soon demonstrate as fully deserved. He started off the first of two sets with a wonderful medley, beginning with "Once upon a Time, which slowly metamorphosed, ever so subtly, into the Johnny Mandel-Johnny Mercer tune "Emily." Next, he played several of his own songs, including "Two by Two from his recent album Live at Birdland, which he recorded with bassist Ron Carter and drummer Al Foster, and a richly textured version of his powerfully rhythmic "Oceans in the Sky," which he originally recorded back in 1989, with bassist Miroslav Vitous and drummer Aldo Romano, and which has been imaginatively rethought on his newest release Promise Kept. From there, he seamlessly melded Claude Debussy's La Plus Que Lente with Billy Strayhorn's "Passion Flower," a performance so perfectly blended as to make the two songs seem destined to be paired in precisely this way for all time. During the performance the maestro showed a particular affinity for the saxophone greats who have influenced his musical sensibilities. His homage to Coltrane, Rollins and Parker was paid through separate, brilliantly executed renditions of compositions by each giant, respectively "Countdown," "Airegin, and the closer, Bird's "Confirmation." His connection to the spirit of these players, especially Rollins, seemed to cast a spell as much on him as his audience.
Since the Fazioli Salon is such an intimate setting, I was able to watch Kuhn's technique intently and fully appreciate the sound that he extracted from the depths of this remarkable piano. Each Fazioli is made by hand in Italy, with a limited number constructed each year. The instrument's wonderfully full resonance was especially responsive to Kuhn's particularly percussive but lyrical approach. His fluttering left hand created a wave of sound that built tremendous tension in his playing while never sacrificing the sensitivity of his conceptions. It's doubtful his masterful use of the entire keyboard with both hands frequently defying their customary registers had ever been executed with such confidence and ease. His subtle shadings of single notes, his distinctive stabbings of notes with his right thumb, and the precise striking by his left fist frequently exposed a mallet-like approach reminiscent of a percussionist's meticulous punctuations on this marvelously expressive instrument. The result was surprisingly never brash or discordant but, to the contrary, proved a definitive complement to the pianist's otherwise singing, lyrical creations.
An awe-inspiring night on several counts: Steve Kuhn is a consummate performer not to be missed; the Fazioli piano is an instrument to behold both sonically and visually; and the Fazioli Salon piano series is a true New Yorker's and music lover's treasure.