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Steve Kuhn: Life’s Backward Glances

This boxed set reissues three Steve Kuhn albums from the ’70s, all long out of print. It is an uneven package, with one solo gem (Ecstasy), one quartet album that is easier to respect than to love (Motility), and one problem (Playground).

Playground is a problem because singer Sheila Jordan is buried so deep in the mix that she is drowned out by Kuhn’s trio, and her words are often unintelligible. It is an inexplicable error for an ECM recording. The six vocal songs are Kuhn originals. Their stream-of-consciousness lyrics sometimes come upon epiphanies, like “I will always miss what we never had.” Jordan’s dramatizations, insofar as we can hear them, sound emotionally authentic, and Kuhn’s open structures are innovative. But the weird mix undermines these enigmatic jazz art songs.

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