Steve Kuhn Trio: Wisteria (ECM 2257)


Steve Kuhn Trio

Steve Kuhn piano
Steve Swallow bass
Joey Baron drums
Recorded Sptember 2011 at Avatar Studios, New York
Engineer: James A. Farber
Assistant: Tim Marchiafava
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Pianist Steve Kuhn, bassist Steve Swallow, and drummer Joey Baron make sweet music together, for sure, but an unquantifiable feel for that music is what sets this dream trio apart, and nowhere so clearly as in the lion’s share of Kuhn’s tunes presented on Wisteria. The complexities thereof become more readily apparent in these core settings. Above all, “Adagio” reveals a triangle within a triangle within a triangle. First is Baron’s sparkling pool, next bordered by Swallow’s equilateral bassing, all molded by Kuhn’s resounding redraws, and with a multi-dimensional sound enhanced to crystalline effect by engineer James Farber, fewer geometries could be more sublime. Further gems last heard on Promises Kept include the study in contrasts that is “Morning Dew,” the lyrical “Pastorale” (then again, when is Kuhn not lyrical?), and that album’s title cut, which achieves here even greater densities than in the former’s orchestral couch.

Wisteria is not without its groovier moments (cf. “A Likely Story”), but tends toward the softer end of the spectrum whenever possible. This only serves to gel the intensity of emotion throughout. Exemplary in this regard is the album’s opener, “Chalet,” in which the trio’s mesh sets a unified tone. It also reveals the inimitable presence of Swallow, whose early solo unlocks much of the joy about to ensue, and whose two contributions—“Dark Glasses” and “Good Lookin’ Rookie”—span the horizon from solemn to ecstatic, sunset ochre to raindrop blue, with class.

Three standalone tracks complete the set. Carla Bley’s “Permanent Wave” lays on the nostalgia so thick that you’ll swear you heard it a long time ago, with a drink in hand and only a memory to keep you company. “Romance” (by Brazilian singer-songwriter Dory Caymmi) brims with blind affection and proves yet again just how masterfully Kuhn approaches the art of the finish. And then there is the title track by Art Farmer, in whose band Kuhn and Swallow played half a century ago. This shadow-swept reverie says it all with so little.

Wisteria is about as positive as jazz gets. So much so that one can feel the smiles rippling all around as one pebble after another is dropped into the sacred font of improvisation from which each of these musicians so artfully drinks, and with enough tenderness to go around for even the most resilient soul.

(To hear samples of Wisteria, click here.)

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