Trumpeter/composer Steffen Kuehn has become a mainstay of the Bay Area jazz and Latin music scenes since arriving from his native Germany in 1997. He won a 2014 Grammy for Best Tropical Latin Album for the self-titled debut by the 20-piece Pacific Mambo Orchestra, which he co-leads with pianist Christian Tumalan. An alternately robust and warmly lyrical soloist and an on-point horn-section player, he works regularly with bands led by Latin drummer Brian Andres and timbalero Louie Romero and with jazz drummer Tommy Igoe’s Groove Conspiracy. And he has performed and recorded as a leader, releasing three albums on his Stefrecords imprint: Now or Later (2002), with fellow trumpeter Tim Hagans; trumpop (2008); and Constantine (2011).
Kuehn considers his newest recording, Leap of Faith, “my first recording in a way, because,” he explains, “I did everything myself. On my previous recordings maybe I had a producer or I was recording somebody else’s music. I produced this record. I wrote the horn sections. I played in the horn section, and I’m also the soloist. I think the writing is my best writing so far.” The CD will be released by Stefrecords on July 29.
The cast of local luminaries assembled by Kuehn includes drummer Tommy Igoe, bassist Dewayne Pate, pianist Colin Hogan, onetime Steely Dan guitarist Drew Zingg, former Tower of Power and Yellowjackets alto saxophonist Marc Russo, and current Tower of Power tenor saxophonist Tom Politzer. Guesting on one track apiece are current Yellowjackets tenor saxophonist Bob Mintzer (on the Afro-Cuban “Storm”) and Pacific Mambo Orchestra vocalist Alexa Weber Morales (the bossa nova “Serenity”). The 10-song set consists of eight original compositions and arrangements by Kuehn, Aaron Lington’s arrangement of “Helen’s Song” by pianist George Cables, and John Gove’s arrangement of “Geraldine” by Yellowjackets keyboardist Russell Ferrante.
“This is the most personal recording I’ve ever done and the closest to me so far,” says Kuehn. “It not only puts the spotlight on me as a trumpeter but also on my writing, which for me was equally important.”
Born (1965) and raised in Mannheim, Germany, Steffen Kuehn was drawn to the trumpet as a child and began lessons at age 8. Initially he was interested in hard rock and then soul music (Earth, Wind and Fire and Chaka Khan) before getting into jazz via the Yellowjackets and Pat Metheny. “I grew up listening to the Yellowjackets,” says Kuehn. “They’re one of my biggest influences.” He cites Louis Armstrong and Miles Davis as influences as well.