Steve Kuhn: Pastorale

There are those on the jazz street who believe that some prominent musicians (Bill Charlap and Steve Kuhn, to name two) have made their best records for the Venus label of Japan. The notion is probably based on nothing more than Venus’ scarcity of distribution in the United States, which gives the label esoteric mystique. Or maybe not. Check out Pastorale, recorded by Steve Kuhn for Venus in 2002 and now reissued by Sunnyside.

The sequences of piano notes that are released, episodically, to make “Once Upon a Summertime” are objective correlatives for yearning, and become one of the most moving interpretations of Michel Legrand’s classic ever recorded. The same claim might be made for “My Buddy,” a quaint antiquity from 1922 that no one plays anymore, turned seriously soulful by Kuhn’s acute intellectual romanticism. “Charade,” “How Am I to Know” and two Kuhn originals (“Years Later” and the title track) are a step faster, but they retain the same quality of taut, intense lyricism.

In this trio, drummer Billy Drummond and bassist Eddie Gomez are fully articulate voices, with major roles in defining the music. The clean, vivid recorded sound of engineer Katherine Miller puts them right down front with Kuhn.

One complaint: The liner notes for this otherwise high-quality project are an unconscionable typographical disaster.

Thomas Conrad

Thomas Conrad has a BA from the University of Utah and an MA from the University of Iowa (where he attended the Writers Workshop). He taught English at Central State University in Ohio, then left the academic world for the private sector. His affiliation with publications such as JazzTimes, Stereophile, The New York City Jazz Record and DownBeat has enabled him to sustain active involvement in two of his passions: music and writing.