Steve Kuhn Trio: To And From The Heart

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To And From The Heart, the latest on Sunnyside Records from pianist Steve Kuhn’s trio with electric bassist Steve Swallow and drummer Joey Baron, is a walking tour of dreams. By its guidance, we are led through one scene after another, each a step out of time. Two of the most fully rendered among them are by Swallow. “Thinking Out Loud” unfurls the set’s welcome mat into a sound so warm and inviting it feels like we’ve just stepped into an intimate jazz club. That the trio has a long performing history to its credit only adds to the live atmosphere. Such comfort as that expressed here can only come with age and experience.

In both this understated groove and “Away,” a bright and easygoing swing, Swallow’s solos are natural extensions of his comping and vice versa. Kuhn likewise stirs his own compositional palette with the concluding medley of “Trance/Oceans in the Sky.” From a sailing piano intro, it navigates rolling waves to dock on shore, where Swallow leads a long walk inland to Baron’s spotlight monologue, wherein he compresses an entire landscape into its first blade of grass. Along the way, into their joyous circle the trio welcomes Michika Fukumori’s “Into the New World,” a sunlit field dotted with Kuhn’s expository footprints while also throwing in a couple of standards—not only for good measure, but also to measure the good. Where Leslie Bricusse/Anthony Newley’s “Pure Imagination” balances elegance and humility, as epitomized by Baron’s scintillations and Swallow’s robust detailing, Jay Livingston/Ray Evans’ “Never Let Me Go” shows Kuhn to be one who understands that melodies aren’t made to be broken but stretched until one can see through them. When music is this good, this nostalgic yet forward-thinking, it can only be a matter of fate.

(This review originally appeared in the September 2019 issue of The New York City Jazz Record, a full PDF of which is available here.)

Jakob Bro: Streams (ECM 2499)

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Jakob Bro
Streams

Jakob Bro guitar
Thomas Morgan double bass
Joey Baron drums
Recorded November 2015, Studios La Buissonne, Pernes-les-Fontaines
Engineers: Gérard de Haro and Nicolas Baillard
Produced by Manfred Eicher
Release date: September 23, 2016

The title of Streams, guitarist Jakob Bro’s second leader date for ECM, could hardly be more appropriate to describe music that flows with the quiet charm of a forest creek, bubbling all the way from childhood to whatever here and now you happen to inhabit when encountering it.

“Opal” touchingly opens the album’s inner sanctum: a sacred gift for profane times. As the first of seven layers, it peels back just enough of life’s opacity to sense a shared humanity deeper within. Bro zooms in on filaments of memory, each a wire drawn from one biographical telephone pole to another. Bassist Thomas Morgan is so attuned to these electrical impulses that the possibility of a power outage seems a distant fantasy. Drummer Joey Baron marks their trail with care, ending with raindrops on a silo.

“Heroines” is one of Bro’s most patient confections. Morgan shuttles through the composer’s loom, soloing with restraint and focus, while the guitar folds itself in layers of cosmic radiation until the night itself begins to glow. This tune is further recast in a solo guitar version later in the set. Like a plant regressing to seed, it has all the world in its mouth before it opens to sing.

“PM Dream” is a free improvisation dedicated to Paul Motian. As in the music of its namesake, its heart beats somewhere between veiled ambience and solid ground. Morgan and Baron dot its continent with runes of memory, as they do in “Full Moon Europa,” which through its quiet substructure yields achingly dramatic elicitations from Bro. “Shell Pink” is another stunner, tracing its nautilus spiral into origins. Morgan is wonderous and sincere, enhancing that locomotive quality, inherent to all of Bro’s finest, along a parabola of ice to fire to ice.

Nowhere is geologic force so thoroughly studied as in “Sisimiut.” Where normally Bro is more interested in following a burning fuse than chronicling the explosion it foreshadows, this time he allows a little of that fire to spill over. But because destruction would be antithetical to the loving atmosphere he has so painstakingly created, we never encounter a bang, going out instead with a hush.