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Steve Kuhn Trio with Joe Lovano: Mostly Coltrane

Dan McClenaghan By

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The sound of John Coltrane (1926-1967) was a mix of spiritual tranquility and ecstatic fury, sheets-of-sound full force gales and transcendent, tender, Zen-like ruminations from a man intent on communing with God through his music—all of which makes an attempt at communing with Coltrane a nervy quest.

Enter pianist Steve Kuhn.

In 1960, at 21 years of age, Kuhn was employed by Coltrane for an eight week stint of live shows at New York's The Jazz Gallery, playing "Central Park West," (later recorded for Coltrane's Sound (Atlantic, 1964)), "The Night Has a Thousand Eyes," and "I Want to Talk About You, —tunes that are included here, along with much more from Coltrane's '60s songbook.

McCoy Tyner is the pianist most associated with Coltrane. His very percussive, powerhouse keyboard style was one of the keys to the success of Coltrane's take on the tune "My Favorite Things," and a propulsive drive train to much of the saxophonist's best Impulse! Records catalog. But Kuhn is a stylist more in line with Tommy Flanagan, who played on six of the original seven tunes on the breakout album Giant Steps (Atlantic Records, 1959), with an approach that favors delicacy and a light touch, a buoyant sparkle and a nuanced zest.

With Mostly Coltrane, Kuhn pays tribute to his former employer.

The disc opens with "Welcome," a tune from Kulu Se Mama (Impulse!, 1965). Kuhn and the quartet get deep into the music, exploring the serene beauty of Coltrane's artistry. With this and the following number, "Song of Praise," from John Coltrane Plays (Impulse Records, 1965), Joe Lovano proves to be the perfect choice of saxophonist for the project. Lovano is an artist who can stand with the greats, a musician of huge technical proficiency combined with an endless stream of free-flowing ideas and unfettered creativity. The same can be said for Kuhn. The tenor and piano solos bristle with Coltranian profundity while maintaining distinct Lovano/Kuhn personalities, with bass/drum accompaniment from David Finck and Joey Baron, respectively, that elevates the proceedings to the great Coltrane Quartet's (McCoy Tyner, Jimmy Garrison and Elvin Jones) heights.

Mostly Coltrane's tunes come mostly from the Coltrane songbook between 1960 and 1965, the saxophonist's most fertile period. Kuhn adds a couple of songs, piano solos both, with his probing "With Gratitude," and the disc's closer, the lovely, pensive "Trance."

Mostly Coltrane celebrates the music of a jazz icon with a remarkable creativity, energy and verve—a year-end top ten contender, for sure.

Track Listing: Welcome; Song of Praise; Crescent; I Want To Talk About You; The Night Has a Thousand Eyes; Living Space; Central Park West; Like Sonny; With Gratitude; Configuration; Jimmy's Mode; Spiritual; Trance.

Personnel: Steve Kuhn: piano; Joe Lovano: tenor saxophone, tarogato; David Finck: bass; Joey Baron: drums.

Title: Mostly Coltrane | Year Released: 2009 | Record Label: ECM Records

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