Support All About Jazz

All About Jazz needs your help and we have a deal. Pay $20 and we'll hide those six pesky Google ads that appear on every page, plus this box and the slideout box on the right for a full year! You'll also fund website expansion.


I want to help
440

Steve Kuhn Trio: Live at Birdland

J Hunter By

Sign in to view read count
Steve Kuhn Trio: Live at Birdland You have to crank the volume hard to hear Bill Evans' whisper-soft intro to Miles' "So What" on Kind of Blue (Columbia, 1959). When you hear it, though, you know something special this way comes. Steve Kuhn comes from the same school of subtlety as Evans, and Kuhn's one-finger opening to his trio's Blue Note debut, Live at Birdland, achieves the same effect as Evans' hushed chords: a simple beginning to a tremendous set.

This disc would have been special, in any case. Aside from their respective resumes, the trio—pianist Kuhn, bassist Ron Carter and drummer Al Foster—did a legendary one-week stand two decades ago at the Village Vanguard that produced two stunning live albums: The Vanguard Date (Owl, 1986) and Life's Magic (Blackhawk, 1986). Material from both records has been re-imagined for Live at Birdland, and the result is both fresh and exciting.

Kuhn plays four single notes, like a faraway church clock, on the opener, "If I Were A Bell." He takes the head while Carter goes off on his own, each monologue moving toward the same intersection. By the time they link, the tune is in high gear, and Kuhn's solo has gone from spare to soaring. It's like easing off the parking brake at the top of a steep, steep hill. One moment you're barely creeping forward; the next, you're flying almost straight down, and loving every second of the freefall. (If this ride isn't enough for you, you get one more trip on the breakneck Bird closer, "Confirmation.")

Live at Birdland dances as much as it dives. "If I Were A Bell" gives way to Fats Waller's "Jitterbug Waltz," mixing classical-music reverence with bursts of humor typical of the wild-eyed NOLA legend who told us all, "One never knows, do one?" Foster gets us all dirty (salsa) dancing with his Latin backbeat on Billy Strayhorn's "Passion Flower," and "Stella by Starlight" hangs in the air like a leaf on the wind, darting to and fro on Kuhn's buoyant playing. By contrast, Carter's "Little Waltz" is stark and mournful, with Carter referencing Michel LeGrand's theme from Summer of '42, another tale of love and innocence lost.

Kuhn, like Evans, does so much with so little. He is a remarkable two-handed pianist, launching dueling solos throughout the disc, but he's at his best when he gets sparse, as he does on the solo snippet of Debussy's "La Plus Que Lente" which he uses to preface "Passion Flower." Carter should play in trios the rest of his life, because the format is optimal for the stained-glass beauty of his playing. Rock-solid one moment, butter-soft the next, Carter's bass is still the best, bar none.

Campaigns start way too early nowadays. But like the presidential race, the competition for best disc of 2007 has begun, and Live at Birdland is the frontrunner. Let the debates begin!


Track Listing: If I Were A Bell; Jitterbug Waltz; Two by Two; La Plus Que Lente/Passion Flower; Little Waltz; Lotus Blossom; Stella by Starlight; Slow Hot Wind; Clotilde; Confirmation.

Personnel: Steve Kuhn: piano; Ron Carter: bass; Al Foster: drums.

Year Released: 2007 | Record Label: Blue Note Records | Style: Straight-ahead/Mainstream


Shop

CD/LP/Track Review
Live Reviews
General Articles
Rediscovery
CD/LP/Track Review
Live Reviews
Read more articles
At This Time...
At This Time...
Sunnyside Records
2016
buy
At This Time…
At This Time…
Sunnyside Records
2016
buy
Wisteria
Wisteria
ECM Records
2012
buy
Steve Kuhn Trio with Joe Lovano: Mostly Coltrane
Steve Kuhn Trio with...
ECM Records
2009
buy
Steve Kuhn: Life's Backward Glances - Solo and Quartet
Steve Kuhn: Life's...
ECM Records
2009
buy
Mostly Coltrane
Mostly Coltrane
ECM Records
2009
buy

Post a comment

comments powered by Disqus

Join the staff. Writers Wanted!

Develop a column, write album reviews, cover live shows, or conduct interviews.