Steve Kuhn Trio (Black Hawk-Sunnyside)
by Donald Elfman – The New York City Jazz Record – May 2013
This reissue of a 1986 live Steve Kuhn set from the Village Vanguard is a stunning demonstration of the pianist’s abilities. With intelligence, passion, wit and more, Kuhn has fashioned a brilliant set of music that underlines the power of his trio with bassist Ron Carter and drummer Al Foster and builds a narrative the completion of which is an artistic marvel.
Kuhn, Carter and Foster are an ideal trio: each player deftly and supportively complements the work of the others. Kuhn’s ideas are fluid and both delicately sensitive to the needs of every musical moment.
The selection of tunes and the progression they form is exceptional: three strikingly different Kuhn originals; a glorious take on Fats Waller’s “Jitterbug Waltz”; “Yesterday’s Gardenias”, a popular tune for Glenn Miller and his Orchestra; the ballad favorite “Never Let Me Go”; a rare Hoagy Carmichael number, “Little Old Lady”, and the Romberg-Hammerstein chestnut “Softly as in a Morning Sunrise”.
Kuhn has great technique and his choice of the Carmichael tune as an opener gets the set off to a dynamic start, the trio in powerhouse mode but never losing the charm of the original melody. The most dazzling interpretation is of “Jitterbug Waltz”, beginning ever so delicately with Kuhn lightly tickling the famous theme. Carter is up first as a soloist and he is both dextrous and ever so soulful, Kuhn then slowly barrels in with a sense of old jazz world and blues.
The originals are just as compelling, none more than “Ulla/Trance”, which opens as a melancholy waltz and morphs into something darker, a kind of trance in which the time becomes more hypnotic. And, speaking of hypnotic, “Mr. Calypso Kuhn” grows in power and pulse, with Carter and Foster laying down a moveable carpet of island groove.
Life’s Magic is one of the finest live recordings made at the Vanguard – and consider what constitutes that list – retaining, to quote Kuhn, its “freshness and vitality”, almost 30 years later.