Joachim Kuhn: Piano Works I: Allegro Vivace

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Thomas Conrad

Joachim Kuhn

Piano Works I is the first in a new solo-piano series on the German ACT label, and the attention to production detail is exceptional. The CD package is elegant and informative, and the sound is precise and rich.

Joachim Kuhn has always lived in the two worlds of classical music and jazz, but perhaps never so explicitly in the space of a single album. Here he performs a piece from a 1690 mass by Francois Couperin, a movement from Bach’s Partita for Violin No. 2 and Mozart’s Konzert in A for clarinet. Then he segues organically to John Coltrane’s “Lonnie’s Lament,” two unrecorded compositions by Ornette Coleman (with whom Kuhn has been associated for many years) and three varied, intriguing pieces of his own.

In a program that could have been schizophrenic, the continuity of creative atmosphere is extraordinary. When Kuhn begins to digress from Couperin and Bach and Mozart-transforming bass lines, liberating chords, adding contrapuntal content-it is not immediately apparent that he is improvising. With the jazz composers, he does the opposite and shapes spontaneity into formality. If this project emits a rather dry, academic vibe, it is still no mean trick to get Ornette Coleman to rondo and Bach to wail while remaining true to both.