Having just celebrated his 80th birthday, pianist Steve Kuhn has continued to get to the heart of things with his long-standing trio of bass guitarist Steve Swallow and drummer Joey Baron.
The ensemble’s deeply resonant relationship can be heard on their new recording, To and From The Heart, a poignant collection of pieces that showcases these masters’ highly wrought abilities in wringing emotion from the ether.
80-year-old pianist Steve Kuhn leads his mature trio with the unvarying carefree relaxation that marked the two decades they have been playing together. The follow up to Wisteria (ECM, 2012) is called To And From The Heart, a post-bop bag of mostly medium-tempo swing numbers, where the pianist, once again, counts on the rhythmic consistency of Steve Swallow, a legendary electric bassist with a strong presence, and Joey Baron, a tour de force drummer with sensitivity to nuance.
The album comprises six tracks only, including originals (two by Kuhn and one by Swallow), one standard, and two covers. It opens and closes precisely with Kuhn compositions. The welcome greeting is given with “Thinking Out Loud”, which sounds like a new standard due to its pleasant melody, rich and logic harmonization, and a transparent structure that defines theme and solo sections with clarity. However, it was with “Trance/Oceans In The Sky”, the closing collage of two old tunes, that the band captivated me the most. During this celestial 16-minute journey we traverse the peaks and valleys of clouds shaped through passages that alternate between rubato and the 3/4-signature meter. All the three instrumentalists improvise, starting with Swallow in a bass monologue, then Kuhn over a brisk waltzing cadence, and ending with Baron, who, alone, takes his time to articulate intelligibly with plenty of colors.
Both “Pure Imagination”, retrieved from Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory, and Swallow’s “Away” bounce around, having Baron’s soft brushwork supplying the perfect backdrop. While the former piece waltzes delicately with joy, the latter exposes a harmonic sequence that, although scintillating, sometimes hits the nostalgic.
Taken from the Great American Songbook, “Never Let Me Go” is a ballad with a pronounced emotional force, perhaps best remembered through the interpretations from Bill Evans and Keith Jarrett. Even if Kuhn’s version is adept and valid, it doesn’t surpass the hope, grace, diligence, and bliss of Michika Fukumori’s “Into The New World”. Here, bassist and drummer lock in a sophisticated, swinging pulsation that takes the narrative efforts of the bandleader to a peak of emotion.
Steve Kuhn assures a cohesive, glove-tight interplay from his longtime trio. This is a disc to be enjoyed in the comfort of a relaxed environment.
1. Thinking out Loud (07:49)
2. Pure Imagination (06:15)
3. Away (06:00)
4. Never Let Me Go (04:38)
5. Into the New World (05:29)
6. Trance / Oceans in the Sky (16:29)
Steve Kuhn – piano
Steve Swallow – bass guitar
Joey Baron – drums