The wonderful and deeply satisfying At This Time...
brings together pianist Steve Kuhn
leading a trio comprised of electric bassist Steve Swallow
and the ubiquitous (and always smiling drummer) Joey Baron
. The immediate impulse for the recording was an extended set by this trio at Birdland, in New York City in 2015.
Swallow and Kuhn go back forty years to Kuhn's ECM debut, Trance
, with Kuhn knowing Baron for more than twenty years. This trio also recorded Kuhn's latest ECM release, Wisteria
The set list comes from the tunes played at the gig, and, even though these players all know each other very well, this very feeling of familiarity is enhanced by the fact that they had just played together. Granted, pros can be called together on short notice to play live or record and perform admirably, but there is an ineffable something about the atmosphere created by this album that gives it its special sound.
The nine tracks are mostly in the six-minute range, with Kuhn's "All The Rest Is The Same" taking seven and a half minutes, and "Ah Moore" by Al Cohn reaching over nine minutes, so there is quite enough room for stretching out. However, the record feels as if it flies by, primarily because of the multitude of details that fit together perfectly and which flow ever forward. There is not a moment of fluff or indecision; each tracks sounds like first take, spontaneous creation with nothing to improve upon by trying again.
This feeling of spontaneous perfection is only enhanced by the quality of the recording itself -the piano is crystalline (as is Kuhn's touch), Swallow's amazingly smooth electric bass sound is centered and full, but soft on the edges, while Baron knows exactly what to do and when to do it.
The tunes themselves range from the well known opener, "My Shining Hour" to lesser known standards such as Kurt Weil's "This Is New," "Lonely Town" by Leonard Bernstein and Quincy Jones' "The Pawnbroker" among others. The Kuhn originals are placed in the middle of the set, with the perfect choice of "The Feeling Within" being performed solo, adding just the right touch of intensity. At This Time...
will command attention without demanding it, and the attentive listener will find much in which to revel many times over.