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Steve Kuhn Trio w/ Joe Lovano - Mostly Coltrane

Contributors: Written by Cathy Gruenfelder
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  • Artist(s):
  • Genre: Jazz
  • Personnel:
    Steve Kuhn, piano; John Lovano, tenor saxophone, tarogato; David Finck, double-bass; Joey Baron, drums
  • Tracks:
    Welcome; Song of Praise; Crescent; I Want To Talk About You; The Night Has a Thousand Eyes; Living Space; Central Park West; Like Sonny; With Gratitude; Configuration; Jimmy’s Mode; Spiritual; Trance

Steve Kuhn Trio W/ Joe Lovano
 MOSTLY COLTRANE—ECM Records 2099 Web:

By Cathy Gruenfelder
 “In January, February and March of 1960, I was privileged to work with John Coltrane at the Jazz Gallery in New York City. I will always cherish those eight weeks. This music reflects my deep respect for him,” writes Steve Kuhn. From the very first notes he plays on the opener, “Welcome,” you can feel the eulogistic spirit in his touch. ‘Welcome’ seems more like ‘goodbye.’ In December of 2008, Kuhn and his trio with David Finck and Joey Baron teemed up with Joe Lovano at Avatar Studios in NYC to record a CD of ten tunes that Coltrane either wrote or made legendary and two Kuhn originals. It is nice to have a Coltrane tribute record where the tenor player is not a Coltrane disciple. Lovano has definitely incorporated an influence of Coltrane into his sound, but it is only one of many elements to what is a very distinct sound of his own. On this record, you will not find anyone trying to re-create anything.          
The opener, “Welcome,” originally appeared on Coltrane’s record Transition from 1965 and it has a strikingly beautiful melody. It is treated like a precious flower, with the utmost delicacy by these veteran musicians. Lovano and Kuhn play with a peaceful and serene affection, and Baron and Finck simply accentuate the efforts of the soloists, creating textures and making exclamation points, allowing the rubato tempo to be controlled by Lovano and Kuhn. When the tune finished, I felt like I had just finished meditating.

Things get a little darker with “Song of Praise.” The tune begins with an unsettling introduction from Kuhn before Lovano states the deep minor melody. Joey Baron reaches a climax of drum effects before suddenly dropping into a swing groove as the solo section begins. Kuhn’s solo is as rich as can be, full of tension and release, and superimposing different time signatures over the 4/4 structure. Finck is on his every move, seeming to almost think along with him—great ears. When Lovano begins his solo, Kuhn lays out. Lovano then gets back into to melody as Kuhn creates un-structured textures behind him and Baron builds to a climax.

“Crescent” also begins with a beautiful introduction from Kuhn. His touch and harmonic sensibilities make your eye lids droop in a sort of ecstatic sense of calm. Lovano plays the song with love and care, and the abandon that love requires to truly be expressed. Baron is playful and adventurous.

The band continues with their gentle and meditative exploration of Coltrane’s music with the ballad “I Want To Talk About You.” It becomes very clear on this tune, perhaps because Lovano isn’t playing on it, that Kuhn is approaching this project from a deeper place than trying to give tribute to the sound and style of Coltrane. You can feel the dedication to the man and his spirit. Kuhn plays with a gorgeous melodicism and a very open but acute sense of time.

Things really brighten up with an up-tempo version of “The Night Has a Thousand Eyes.” The band plays it with a very straight forward and up-lifting sense of harmony, and they swing their tails off. Toward the end of the tune, Kuhn and Lovano improvise together and push each other on before going back into the head.

Making a stark contrast to the previous tune is “Living Space,” the title track of Coltrane’s 1965 release. It is a searching and free modal piece with an evolving sense of tempo. Lovano and Kuhn play off each other beautifully and Baron creates weather patterns with the drums—alternately thunderous, oceanic or clear and breezy.

“Central Park West” is played as a duo between Lovano and Kuhn. The two play the tune with such ease and freedom. Lovano’s playing is completely reflexive, yet he is always allowing himself to truly be confronted by the call to action that each moment brings, so his reflexes are always extremely active—his virtuosity, spontaneity and personality are an incredible combination.

“Like Sonny” is given a Latin tinged treatment and Kuhn really shines on this one with his hand independence, and the way his hands interact. Finck takes a very tasty solo.

The first of the two Kuhn originals is “With Gratitude,” which he plays solo. Through it, he tells an incredibly rich and profound story of love, loss, life and death. It has the quality of seeming to be composed and improvised at the same time.
“Configuration” is approached with complete freedom and abandon, and Baron and Lovano jump on the opportunity. After a minute or so, Kuhn joins the action with equal intensity. At Lovano’s free-est moments, there is almost a primitive flamboyance, but there is always a sense of joy in his playing. I will only make a comparison because this is a tribute album, but Coltrane’s playing is much darker.

The group approaches “Spiritual” in a free context for the first two minutes, before settling into a classic Jones/Coltrane/Garrison/Tyner sense of swing. Lovano plays a tarogato on this tune, which has a sound somewhere in between a soprano sax and a clarinet. Kuhn takes a very innovative and varied solo with one incredible idea after another. Baron’s drumming really has that classic Elvin Jones vibe, with its rolling explosions of rhythm. The album ends with another incredibly personal solo original from Kuhn entitled “Trance.”


What is most wonderful about this album is that each player fully asserts their own identity, yet in reverence to John Coltrane. They are not playing like him or imitating the music and interplay of his great bands, but they are playing for him and in tribute to the spirit of the man and his music. You can feel the love and gratitude emanating from the speakers.
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