In No Coming No Going, the Lithuanian NoBusiness imprint has unearthed a real gem, as part of its continuing exhumation of the New York 1970s loft scene. Reedman Peter Kuhn was a minor presence during the latter half of the decade, releasing three discs under his own leadership, and appearing on dates by Frank Lowe and William Parker. But in Livin' Right, reissued here as the first installment of a two disc set, he waxed a masterpiece which sums up many of the virtues of the time as it successfully explores then current free jazz paradigms: with bass and drums keeping time but also offering trenchant counterpoint, freeform horns in garrulous polyphony, and attractively arranged heads which frame and launch the extemporization.
It's ironic that Kuhn's brutally frank autobiographical liners make clear that he was doing the absolute opposite of what the title promised. Strung out on drugs, he eventually dropped out of sight in the mid 1980s and was little heard over the next 30 years, until re-engaging with the music in southern California, which has lead NoBusiness Records to release a contemporary session as The Other Shore (2016).
For the live broadcast on Columbia University Radio WKCR-FM, Kuhn pulled together a disparate but talented cast. Flanking the leader's vocally-inflected clarinets are the twin trumpets of Toshinori Kondo, incisive and hinting at a grounding in bop, and Arthur Williams, who operates in broad strokes and smears. Fanning the flames are the incendiary pairing of William Parker on bass, already showing how keening bow work and infectious momentum could be combined, and Denis Charles on drums, channeling the work of Max Roach and Ed Blackwell into an unfettered setting.
In a bold move, opener "Chi" acts as a showcase for Charles. After a punchy staccato head, the drummer takes center stage showing all his strengths. His ordered playing is both tuneful and mindful, as he passes pithy motifs in call and response between the different parts of his kit. Thereafter the almost half hour long "Manteca, Long Gone, Axistential" (separated into three tracks on the original issue, but reunited as played here) mingles multiple themes progressing from conversational exchanges between Kuhn's growling clarinet and Kondo's waspish muted trumpet, via a duet between Parker's muscular pizzicato and Williams' abrasive exclamations, to a darkly voiced dirge. It's a measured piece full of surprises. Finally an involved unison encloses more sprightly interplay during "Red Tape."
On the second disc, the interaction is pared back to the essence pitching Kuhn's reeds against Charles' drums in a 54-minute live concert recorded in 1979. Even in such an exposed format, Kuhn displays no limitations and sounds unlike any of the extant role models on clarinets. "Stigma" recalls a Steve Lacy number in its insistent phrases, and in doing so also brings to mind Lacy's tremendous if overlooked Capers (HatArt, 1979) by a trio which also included Charles. Both Kuhn and Charles deconstruct the theme for use as building blocks in their ongoing invention.
In spite of its vintage, the sound is good enough that you can distinguish not only which drum or cymbal Charles is striking, but which portion of it. Charles' happy go lucky persona belied a highly organized approach to the drums, which lends a pleasing structure to even the seat of pants fabrications. On bass clarinet Kuhn contributes blood curdling roars to the mournful revisiting of "Axistential." Kuhn wields tenor on the more unrestrained final cuts, "Drum Dharma" and "Headed Home," and proves himself no slouch on that axe either. It's an excellent performance which completes a knockout package.
Chi; Manteca, Long Gone, Axistential; Red Tape; Stigma; Axistential; Drum
Dharma; Headed Home.
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