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Steffen Kuehn: Leap Of Faith

Dan Bilawsky By

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Leap Of Faith is the fourth album from Grammy-winning trumpeter Steffen Kuehn, but it's the first record to truly represent and showcase every aspect of his artistry. He produced the album, he was involved in the mixing process, he wrote eight of the ten compositions featured within, and his horn playing is central to the success of the music. This is truly Steffen Kuehn in all his glory, taking his talents to new heights and levels of visibility.

While Kuehn's name should be enough to mark this as high quality music before you even hear it, those who still need convincing need simply open the album and glance at the talent roster. One look at that personnel list—a veritable murderers' row of San Francisco Bay Area-based musicians—makes it clear that this is going to be some serious stuff. With drumming dynamo Tommy Igoe, former Steely Dan guitarist Drew Zingg, Tower of Power tenor man Tom Politzer, Tower of Power alum altoist Marc Russo, and many other top flight players in the mix, Kuehn has every ingredient he could possibly need. Not surprisingly, those ingredients add up to a recipe for success.

The album kicks off with "Who Knew?," a funk number with a choppy melody. It's a vibrant vehicle that allows Kuehn, keyboardist Colin Hogan, and Igoe to shine. From there it's off to the title track, with Kuehn's muted trumpet coasting over an odd-metered groove, Russo riding high, and Zingg moving into a pseudo-Santana zone. Kuehn then switches to flugelhorn for one of only two covers on the album—Russell Ferrante's Yellowjackets-associated "Geraldine." It's a seductive piece that somehow maintains its balladic intent even as it gains energy and momentum through the work of the rhythm section and the addition of horn backgrounds.

The inclusion of a number of guests adds a good deal of variety to what immediately follows that opening trio of songs. Tenor titan Bob Mintzer joins up for "Storm," a 12/8 Afro-Cuban vehicle that also brings in keyboardist Christian Tumalan and multi-reedist Aaron Lington (on bass clarinet); Wouter Kellerman's flute makes an appearance on "Serenity," a bossa-ballad hybrid featuring Alexa Weber Morales' vocals (in Portuguese); and Lington switches to baritone saxophone to add some extra low-end to his own arrangement of pianist George Cables' "Helen's Song," another showcase for Zingg's guitar.

The remaining tracks, while devoid of special guests, are in keeping with the general tone and tenor of the date. "Now Is The Time," anchored by Igoe's four-on-the-floor and Pate's steady-as-a-rock bass lines, features Russo's impassioned blowing. It proves to be one of the album's standout tracks. "Lanechange," likewise, benefits from a steady rhythmic backdrop, using what's essentially a vamp to support Kuehn's soloing. Then it all comes to a close with "Above The Fold," a feature for Politzer's soulful tenor, and "Vivienne & Simone's Lullaby," a gentle and beautiful goodbye with Kuehn's muted trumpet sending us off.

Kuehn has created an album that overflows with strength and substance, showing us exactly what he's made of in every respect. It may have been a leap of faith, but he nailed the landing.

Track Listing: Who Knew?; Leap Of Faith; Geraldine; Storm; Serenity; Helen's Song; Now Is The Time; Lanechange; Above The Fold; Vivienne & Simone's Lullaby.

Personnel: Steffen Kuehn: trumpet, flugelhorn; Tommy Igoe: drums; Dewayne Pate: bass; Drew Zingg: guitar; Colin Hogan: piano, keyboard; John Gove: trombone; Tom E. Politzer: tenor saxophone; Marc Russo: alto saxophone; Javier Cabanillas: congas, auxilliary percussion; Omar Ledezma Jr.: timbales; Braulio Barrere: bongos; Bob Mintzer: tenor saxophone (4); Wouter Kellerman: flute (5); Christian Tumalan: keyboard (4), piano (5); Pete Cornell: alto flute (4); Aaron Lington: bass clarinet (4), baritone saxophone (4, 6); Alexa Weber Morales: vocals (5).

Title: Leap Of Faith | Year Released: 2016 | Record Label: StefRecords

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