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Steve Kuhn Trio: Qui

John Kelman By

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Why an album takes over five years from recording to release is curious, especially when it's from an established artist like pianist Steve Kuhn—perennially underappreciated to be sure, but not without a certain cachet. Still, finding a home for a session can sometimes be a challenge, and at the end of the day, whether it was recorded five years or five months ago, we should be thankful that Quiéreme Mucho—a thoroughly engaging mainstream set that turns the idea of approaching a Latin repertoire on its side—has finally found a home on Sunnyside Records.

These days, with such liberal cross-pollination of different cultural styles within the jazz purview, it's sometimes easy to forget that one of mainstream jazz's fundamental premises is to take music—any music—and apply certain defining characteristics, perhaps most importantly a strong sense of swing. And so, rather than treat the Latin sources of the six songs on Quiéreme Mucho with any kind of cultural reverence, Kuhn and his trio with bassist David Fincke and drummer Al Foster take the material and, barring one exception, place it smack dab in the middle of the mainstream.

The songs range from the spry medium tempo opener, "Andalucia, to the more up-tempo "Bésame Mucho" and "Duerme, the relaxed "Siempre En Mi Corazón, and the balladic yet nimble "Tres Palabras. Only Foster's slow dance rhythm gives the title track any overt cultural authenticity.

But what is there to place a program of centrist piano jazz above the plethora of trios mining similar mainstream territory today? Well, for one, Kuhn has always been a soloist with a strong compositional sense. No single solo stands out, because they all manifest his ability to take an initial premise and gradually build it into a cogent long-form statement. With some players, specific phrases catch the ear, but with Kuhn it's the satisfying sense at the end of an extended solo that he's built something with a distinct beginning, middle, and end. Repeated motifs periodically act as resting points, but they ultimately evolve into more fleshed out musical thoughts. Kuhn also finds ways to liberally quote from other sources throughout his solos, yet they always seem natural rather than cute or unnecessarily wry.

Another reason to recommend the trio is its clear chemistry. Fincke has worked with Kuhn for twenty years, and it shows in his ability to support while simultaneously assert a robust tone and individualistic ideas. Foster, another player who's no stranger to Kuhn, demonstrates a subtle simpatico that is often felt more than heard.

Quiéreme Mucho may not be the kind of forward-thinking session that some of Kuhn's work for the ECM label has been. Still, it's a satisfying effort that asserts the real spirit of the mainstream, distinguishing itself by applying its own aesthetic to a series of Latin tunes that others would likely have treated more literally.

Visit Steve Kuhn on the web.


Track Listing: Andalucia; Besame Mucho; Siempre En Mi Corazon; Duerme; Qui

Personnel: Steve Kuhn: piano; David Finck: bass; Al Foster: drums.

Title: Qui | Year Released: 2005 | Record Label: Sunnyside Records

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