Any chance that one has to hear a master musician in his or her preferred setting is a gift. For all the one-offs and ensemble by committee type of gigs that spring up, it is the reunion with familiar collaborators for a stint of a few nights that really becomes integral for the best performances. On his new recording, At This Time, pianist Steve Kuhn found himself just in the right time and place to record a trio record that feels timeless and truly inspired. The ensemble, which features legendary bassist Steve Swallow and drummer Joey Baron, was happy to find itself in an extended engagement at Birdland Jazz Club in New York in September 2015 and found time to get into the recording studio before heading to Europe on tour.
Kuhn is a jazz pianist whose recordings may have been out of the jazz mainstream for most of the five decades his career has spanned, but it hardly matters. Kuhn's style is signature, though his explorations have taken him to many different terrains in the world of jazz, from knotty post-bop to pointillism and modalism and through the nefarious world of 20th century vanguard composition to the place where listeners find him now: the place of a supreme and unabashed lyricism that is as sophisticated and forward-looking as it is historical and inclusive.
Wisdom and wistfulness are intertwined in “Wisteria”, whose title track, written by Art Farmer, takes us back to the early 60s, when both Steve Kuhn and Steve Swallow sang softly of the blues in the trumpeter-flugelhornist’s band. They’ve shared a lot of history since then. Swallow played on Kuhn’s classic “Trance”; Kuhn played on Swallow’s “Home” and “So There”. Drummer Joey Baron has been heard with Kuhn on ECM discs including “Remembering Tomorrow” and the dazzling tribute disc “Mostly Coltrane”. This new album takes a fresh look at several pieces heard in Kuhn’s orchestral “Promises Kept” collection, but alongside the aching balladry there is also some driving hard bop (on “A Likely Story”) , a brace of Swallow tunes (“Dark Glasses”), Carla Bley’s gospel-tinged “Permanent Wave” and the Brazilian “Romance” by Dori Caymmi.
Steve Kuhn is a highly inventive & innovative jazz pianist and composer whose pianism can go from to avant-garde to traditional hard bop, with classical influences. He is normally associated with the music of his remarkable jazz trios.
Steve Kuhn is generally not thought of as a solo pianist because he has rarely recorded in that format, but this 1990 concert at Maybeck Recital Hall is one of his most memorable releases.
This very satisfying concert CD is well-worth acquiring. ~Ken Dryden, allmusic.com