Learn How

We need your help in 2018

Support All About Jazz All About Jazz is looking for 1,000 backers to help fund our 2018 projects that directly support jazz. You can make this happen by purchasing ad space or by making a donation to our fund drive. In addition to completing every project (listed here), we'll also hide all Google ads and present exclusive content for a full year!

440

Steve Kuhn Trio: Live at Birdland

J Hunter By

Sign in to view read count
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.

Title: Live at Birdland | Year Released: 2007 | Record Label: Blue Note Records


Tags

comments powered by Disqus

More Articles

Read Makes the Heart to Sing: Jazz Hymns CD/LP/Track Review Makes the Heart to Sing: Jazz Hymns
by Dan Bilawsky
Published: December 16, 2017
Read Song of No Regrets CD/LP/Track Review Song of No Regrets
by Jack Bowers
Published: December 16, 2017
Read Sounding Tears CD/LP/Track Review Sounding Tears
by John Sharpe
Published: December 16, 2017
Read Lighthouse CD/LP/Track Review Lighthouse
by Glenn Astarita
Published: December 16, 2017
Read Kill The Boy CD/LP/Track Review Kill The Boy
by Chris Mosey
Published: December 16, 2017
Read Rain or Shine CD/LP/Track Review Rain or Shine
by Jack Bowers
Published: December 15, 2017
Read "Clean" CD/LP/Track Review Clean
by Dan Bilawsky
Published: August 15, 2017
Read "Blue Skylight" CD/LP/Track Review Blue Skylight
by Dan McClenaghan
Published: March 5, 2017
Read "Standards" CD/LP/Track Review Standards
by Karl Ackermann
Published: November 16, 2017
Read "Slægt" CD/LP/Track Review Slægt
by Jakob Baekgaard
Published: September 24, 2017
Read "Far From Over" CD/LP/Track Review Far From Over
by Karl Ackermann
Published: August 13, 2017
Read "Reunion" CD/LP/Track Review Reunion
by John Sharpe
Published: March 31, 2017

Support All About Jazz's Future

We need your help and we have a deal. Contribute $20 and we'll hide the six Google ads that appear on every page for a full year!