Steve Kuhn Trio
April 4, 2016
Against the backdrop of a bombastic presidential election campaign with calls for nuclear proliferation and carpet bombing it's refreshing to hear nuance. The Steve Kuhn Trio understands nuance. And more. But it's the nuance that makes listening to this trio so satisfying. They swing, they play standards, they do all the things a top-flight jazz piano trio should do, but on top of that they display a sense of grace and charm and attention to detail.
Kuhn's nuance comes, in part, from his experience; over five decades and counting. His collaborators along the way, no doubt, played significant roles as well. His early days saw him gigging with players like Art Farmer
, Kenny Dorham
and even, for a short stint, John Coltrane
. Although he has played and recorded in a variety of contexts, the piano trio is one of his favorite and most consistent formats.
Kuhn has been playing and recording for most of his career and, not surprisingly, he has released albums on a variety of record labels. Some of his most well-known recordings are on the ECM label which is one of those record companies with its own distinctive sound. Sometimes ECM artists can get pigeonholed in that category. The ECM sound is generally ethereal, cerebral and atmospheric. Although ECM artists typically fall in the jazz camp, the music on these albums doesn't always swing; sometimes not at all, opting instead for tone poems and sonic washes.
Monday's performance by the Steve Kuhn Trio certainly swung. Obviously the rhythm section had a lot to do with that. Veteran drummer Billy Drummond
proved that he is a master of percussive textural subtleties. He propelled the trio on hard swinging standards such as "My Shining Hour" and "Confirmation." And he was equally adept at adding sonic coloration during less frenzied moments. During one of his drum solos he established a repetitive cymbal cycle that created a hypnotic mood that was the antithesis of your typical drum solo.
Bassist David Wong
was the young kid in the group. He is a 2004 graduate of Julliard in classical music, but has spent considerable time with jazz greats such as Eric Reed
, the Heath Brothers
, Benny Green
and Sachal Vasandani
. Monday night, he consistently locked in with Drummond while the band was swinging and deftly added sonic punctuations and delicate details during the quieter moments.
The set list included many jazz standards interspersed with a number of Kuhn originals. The standards were often difficult to pick out by ear because the themes were consistently wrapped in improvisations, flights of fancy, tangents, digressions and other happy distractions. While the majority of the set generally fell into the straight-ahead jazz category, Kuhn showed his versatility by occasionally moving beyond. For example, his original "Two by Two" added explicit bluesy elements. "Angela" by Antonio Carlos Jobim
appropriately included some Latin tinge. Another original even featured Kuhn on vocals. He explained how the song has two names, "The Saga of Harrison Crabfeathers" a/k/a "Poem for Number 15" dedicated to Yankees' catcher Thurman Munson. Kuhn's vocal really wasn't singing, per se, but more talking in a Leonard Cohen sort of way.
The three members of the trio are obviously extremely devoted and highly disciplined in their tasks. Unlike at least one of those presidential candidates who seems to be campaigning with little or no preparation because being president sounds like it would be a fun thing to do, these musicians are serious. As Kuhn said a couple times during the evening, "We thank you for coming out to hear this music to which we've devoted our lives."