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Solo Statesmen

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Joachim Kühn
Touch the Light
ACT Music
2021

Centuries-old classical, rock from recent decades, jazz staples both classic and modern—to Joachim Kuhn it's all just good music regardless of style, and it seems any material can be suited to the mood at hand when he's in a mind to play with it. This recital is indeed radiant in the most soft-spoken and thoughtful of ways. Touch the Light is as exquisitely crafted as you'd hope from someone drawing on over half a century of experience, and all those eclectic bits and pieces fit its contemplative sound as if they've only ever belonged together.

If there's a theme to the song selection, it's an ear for melody. When familiar tunes crop up from Bob Marley or Peggy Lee, Kühn's rendering is simple and expressive enough to make the long-familiar seem fresh all over. Just as often, the pieces are subtly shaped enough to become at least half-unfamiliar: the Weather Report ballad "A Remark You Made" drifts into meandering abstraction in between the recognizable (and lovely) choruses, he finds a beautiful stream of warm soul running through Prince's "Purple Rain," and Beethoven even gets a slight touch of the blues. Rounded off with a couple originals that summarize the sound best (particularly the eloquently yearning title track), it's a program that quietly sparkles and dazzles.

Fred Hersch
Songs from Home
Palmetto Records
2020

While the world was feeling particularly worried and uncertain during the early phase of Covid-19 isolation, Fred Hersch chose to respond—arguably as any respectable jazz hand would—by looking for a silver lining. A series of song-a-day live streams provided both a way to keep sane and continue working while normal routines dried up. If the subsequent Songs from Home is certainly shaped by that situation (Hersch's beaten-up home piano having an idiosyncratic tone that a studio instrument wouldn't, for instance), it doesn't wallow or dwell on misfortune either. These pieces are full of warmth and quiet beauty despite (or because of) the circumstances.

Granted, that's no surprise to anyone familiar with Hersch's incomparable voice as a player. The sound of jazz's whole history from bop to balladry flows through his hands here. Soft contemplation has its place, with Joni Mitchell's "All I Want" full of simple aching and Jimmy Webb's "Wichita Lineman" sounding as deeply wistful as it's ever been played. Still, a good helping of tasteful stride and bop keep the overall tone mostly bright in the end. There's plenty of swing as he trips through golden-age tunes by Cole Porter or Lerner and Loewe, his hands skipping around each other like kids playing hopskotch, and the closing take on "When I'm Sixty-Four" brings out its vaudeville charm brightly to the fore. Even in solitude, Hersch's playing contains enough richness and vivid colors for an orchestra.

Tracks and Personnel

Touch the Light

Tracks: Warm Canto; Allegretto (from Symphony no. 7); A Remark You Made; Sintra; Ponta de Areia; Redemption Song; Touch the Light; Fever; Blue Velvet; Stardust; Purple Rain; Last Tango in Paris; Peace Piece.

Personnel: Joachim Kühn: piano.

Songs from Home

Tracks: Wouldn't It Be Loverly; Wichita Lineman; After You've Gone; All I Want; Get Out of Town; West Virginia Rose/The Water Is Wide; Sarabande; Consolation (A Folk Song); Solitude; When I'm Sixty-Four.

Personnel: Fred Hersch: piano.

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