Steve Kuhn Trio w/Joe Lovano
Joe Lovano tenor saxophone, tarogato
Steve Kuhn piano
David Finck double-bass
Joey Baron drums
Recorded December 2008, Avatar Studios, New York
Engineer: James A. Farber
Produced by Manfred Eicher
As John Coltrane’s original quartet pianist for eight weeks in the early months of 1960, Steve Kuhn is as qualified as anyone to assemble a fitting tribute to one of jazz’s eternal gurus. Despite his monumental significance in the field, ECM has reckoned with the Trane only sporadically—first on Dave Liebman’s Drum Ode and, most recently before this record, on Trio Beyond’s Saudades. Mostly Coltrane is, however, more than homage. It’s just as importantly a full-fledged portrait of the musicians bringing this music to renewed life. Saxophonist Joe Lovano has no pretensions of mimicking the man by whom 10 of the album’s 12 tunes were written or made famous. Bassist David Finck and drummer Joey Baron—the other sides of the Steve Kuhn Trio’s equilateral triangle—complete the group’s finely interwoven sound.
Kuhn, in that way he does, unpacks his solos one breath at a time, so that the considerations of “Welcome” offer a soft mapping of the road that lies ahead. Lovano is at the peak of his sentimentality, while Baron dances around the beat—Paul Motian in disguise. Lovano further threads the needle of “Song of Praise,” in which he tightens his grip on the higher notes like a dancing bird, touching wind one feather at a time until both wings sing in concert.
Kuhn may be the emotional center of the record, but his special sense of ebb and flow allows the crests of his bandmates to glint in the moonlight just as vividly. Lovano is irresistible in his luxuriant, chromatically infused takes on “Central Park West” and “Like Sonny,” while Baron provides gentlest uplift to his tarogato (a nod to Charles Lloyd?) in “Spiritual.” Other highpoints include two of Coltrane’s posthumous tunes: “Jimmy’s Mode” and “Configuration,” the former of which boasts an introspective solo from Finck, while the latter staircases its way into brilliance.
The two made-famous tunes—“I Want To Talk About You” and “The Night Has A Thousand Eyes”—are another remarkable pair. One traces its theme in retrograde, exuding sensuality in a trio-only setting. The other is a brisker tune in which the rhythmic section works a gorgeous telepathy, Finck the heartbeat of it all. Into this fray swoops Lovano like a bird who flies for sheer enjoyment, giant yet light on his feet. Marvelous.
Two more of a distant pair, this by Kuhn, rounds out the set. “With Gratitude” finds the composer solo, singing a song of dedication through his fingers. “Trance,” also solo, brings us full circle to his first ECM release of the same name, looking back in a rolling wave of light, thus signing off on a statement as timeless as the music it embodies.