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This month we salute two veterans of the jazz wars who are setting new standards after a lifetime of excellence.
Steve Kuhn is one of those individuals who has never received his due despite associations (Miles Davis, Stan Getz, John Coltrane) which alone would have long ago placed him in the hall of fame. Kuhn has written, recorded and performed at an enormously high level during his life yet never gotten star billing. This situation has thankfully been rectified by Blue Note records who have signed him to his first major record contract. To celebrate the event Kuhn was reunited with bandmates Ron Carter and Al Foster at Birdland earlier this month. The Steve Kuhn trio carved out an important slice of immortality when it was first formed 20 years ago. If the group's efforts at Birdland is any indication it is shortly about to add to its legend .
The first Blue Note CD is to be a live session and the group gave prompt notice of its intention to continue the unique improvisational experiments it had begun years ago. The first selection "If I were a Bell form "Guys and Dolls contained only a few notes of the melody and they didn't arrive until the coda. Kuhn set the tone by sharing the improv time generously with Carter and Foster often getting more time than the leader. This situation reflected the Kuhn habit of always putting others first. As a result, writers and publications have given Kuhn short shrift. But ironically, this unselfishness is the root cause of this trio's success. The democratic dialoging of the group is conducted with aplomb and refinement. In Fats Waller's "Jitterbug Waltz a full complement of musical parodies and ironies was offered akin to those made by Velasquez in "Las Maninas. In addition, a delicious last chorus with the first full delineation of the melody and an alternating three quarter time/ four quarter time pattern concluded matters. Other compositions included "Two by Two (an original created 20 years ago at The Village Vanguard), "Poem for no. 15 (Yankee catcher Thurman Munson) with a hauntingly doubled Ron Carter solo, compositions by Kenny Dorham and Billy Strayhorn, and a complexly wrought "Stella by Starlight.
All through a marvelous evening (I stayed for the 2nd set) the trio set out an architecture for the forthcoming "live CD that echoed the aforementioned "democracy. Steve Kuhn will be listed as leader on the CD (scheduled for February release) but I'm sure he would prefer to share equal billing with his cohorts. That has always been his way.
Adding a grammy award winning CD to a lifetime of titanic achievements was no mean feat but Nancy Wilson managed it in 2005. Although she retired from touring last year, Ms. Wilson has continued her popular NPR series "Jazz Profiles" and still performs at select singing engagements. One might have thought that after last year's grammy the legendary chanteuse would relax a bit but that has not been the case. Instead, she went right back into the studio and constructed a session which could reprise last year's success and perhaps exceed it. Turned to Blue on the MCG label adds new territory to her musical world and investigates lyric mystery with deeper insight. Ever since She recorded Guess Who I Saw Today over 40 years ago Nancy Wilson became known as one of the most penetrating lyric artists on the scene. She has continued to utilize her lyric imprimatur ever since and this latest outing reveals more lyric magic. The Title track comes from a poem by Maya Angelou and another tune "I don't Remember Ever Growing Up was written by Artie Butler.
Wilson has chosen to share the glory of her lyric riches with some brilliant sidemen including James Moody, Tom Scott, Jimmy Heath, Bob Mintzer and Andy Narell. The result of this collaboration of stellar talent is CD that will certainly create another critical and popular stir. Turned To Blue receives worldwide release on August 22.
Years ago now--in Rhodesia--listening to Voice of America with Willis Conover I heard Bunk Johnson play When The Saints Go Marching In, and Billie Holiday sing Don't Explain. I knew then there was no other life for me than jazz.