Steve Kuhn: Mostly Coltrane (ECM/Ode)

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Steve Kuhn Trio: Central Park West
Steve Kuhn: Mostly Coltrane (ECM/Ode)

Even those jazz listeners not usually drawn to the sound and style of many albums on the ECM label would find the pedigree of the players here, and the topic of their conversation, mighty appealing: pianist Kuhn actually played with John Coltrane for two months in 1960 when he (Kuhn) was 21; the drummer here in this acoustic group is the great Joey Baron (the bassist is David Finck, both longtime players with Kuhn); and the tenor man is Joe Lovano whose credentials are impeccable.

And the material is, as the title says, mostly from the expansive repertoire of a jazz giant, including some material that Kuhn played with Coltrane at the Jazz Gallery in New York.

Kuhn has had a career which has sometimes never quite fired as it might, but working with the sharp and inventive Baron and the solid, supportive Finck over the past decade and a half has continually brought out the best in him, and here -- especially in the more exploratory numbers -- he reaches towards a career peak.

The cornerstone of course is Lovano, a player of supreme and justifiable confidence who here takes a measured (dare we say, ECM approach) to some of the material (Crescent) and at other times digs as deep into the spiritual and liberating quality that this music (and Coltrane's presence) allows. The ballad Central Park West is distilled beauty and romantic simplicity.

Those who know this material and Coltrane's many line-ups will find much to enjoy and even analyse here, although Kuhn and pals move the music into areas of their own.

Baron is capable of channeling Elvin Jones, for example, but for most of this he plays in his own space and style, and perhaps more in line with what we have come to expect on edgy ECM albums. Kuhn too stamps his own fingerprint here and never plays in the shadow of Alice Coltrane, McCoy Tyner and others.

It makes for music which starts with the vaguely familiar but which takes you somewhere else of its own conception, and sounds utterly contemporary. Like an ECM album, we might say.

There is great beauty here (their take on Billy Eckstine's I Want to Talk About You for example which is romantic and soulful) but equally there is that acknowledgement that Coltrane was a seeker -- and so Lovano probes and takes flight, carrying you along with him on their extended investigation of The Night Has a Thousand Eyes.

So, a lot to enjoy, deconstruct and immerse yourself in.

And, at 71, Kuhn has made an album that is as emotionally deep as it is wide. 

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