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Steve Kuhn Trio: Quiereme Mucho

Trance was recorded in 1973 and has just been reissued on CD. Quiereme Mucho, just released in the U.S. for the first time on Sunnyside, was recorded for Venus in 2000. Venus is an interesting Japanese label that specializes in deserving, underappreciated New York pianists–like Steve Kuhn. Perhaps Kuhn’s excellent ECM album with strings in 2004, Promises Kept, has created renewed interest in his work.

To sit down with these two albums and listen to them back to back–even though they were recorded 27 years apart, and they are so totally different in genre and of such high quality–is to experience the span of an exceptional musical career. Kuhn is known for his freshly imagined, erudite, personal interpretations of known material. All the tunes on Quierme Mucho are popular Latin American classics. Trance features eight Kuhn originals, including one that deserves to be a jazz standard, “Life’s Backward Glance.”

Quierme Mucho is much more than “Steve Kuhn’s Spanish album.” He never sentimentalizes this material but respects it by digging deep into its vast potential for jazz improvisation. Everyone from Art Blakey to Lawrence Welk has done “Andalucia” (“The Breeze and I”). Kuhn’s reading is dense and hard and angular and comprehensive. The melody of “Besame Mucho” is quickly and lightly traced before Kuhn flies away with it, quoting the Beatles and John Coltrane.

Trance, spacey and lush, is in a more “contemporary” groove. Kuhn plays some electric piano, Steve Swallow plays electric bass and Jack DeJohnette knew things in 1973 that most drummers haven’t learned yet. On “Something Everywhere,” Kuhn accumulates silvery skittering electric piano notes into a ferocious headlong momentum. It is fun to compare the version of “Life’s Backward Glance” here to the one with strings on Promises Kept. The older version is less pretty but more beautiful.

Sunnyside hopes to release three more Kuhn albums from the Venus label. They would be welcome at my house.

Originally Published