Saturday, October 11, 2008

CD of the Day - "Steve Kuhn: The Early 70's"

CD of the Day
Steve Kuhn: "The Early 70's" (Columbia COCB 53597) 2007
As soon as I read the 4-star review in DownBeat, at the time of the original LP release in 1972, I began to look for the self-titled album "Steve Kuhn", issued by Buddah Records. It took me several years to get a copy, due to the terrible distribution service of the label. 25 years later, that superb album reappered on CD for the first time. In Japan, of course. Thanks to a direct agreement between Kuhn (who kept the album rights) and Columbia Music Entertainment.
The CD artwork uses the same cover & back cover photos of the original LP. Only the title "The Early 70's" was added to the front cover. And six previously unreleased recordings (from another session) were added as bonus tracks.
The main attraction, however, remains the original 1972 release, actually recorded at Media Sound Studios (NY) in July 1971. It's Steve Kuhn's timeless masterpiece! He plays acoustic piano and Fender Rhodes. He also sings and is the composer of all songs. He and Gary McFarland worked together in the arrangements. McFarland (who would be killed at age 38, on November 3rd, 1971, after being poisoned in a NY bar) scored & conducted the string quartet that adds extra brilliance to the wondrous performances of Ron Carter (heard on acoustic & electric basses), Billy Cobham (drums - as subtle as on Milt Jackson's "Sunflower"), and Airto Moreira (percussion).
The album came out as a posthmous release for McFarland. Bill Evans wrote the liner notes:
"Steve Kuhn continues to surprise! At each periodic return to appraise him as his career has progressed I have always been struck by his unpredictable ability to take his own turns. When one expects the traditional line he explores the avant-garde and farther on he may return to extend the limits of paths revealed now to have been abandoned only temporarily. One thing is certain, however, and that is that the man behind his music makes it always deserving of the closest and most respectful consideration from those who seek the truest rewards from the creative world." (Sept., 1972).
Steve Kuhn himself just added: "The music is humbly dedicated to the memory of my dear friend, Gary McFarland." (Oct. 3, 1972).
The music? Well, I refuse to describe it. You deserve the listening experience to feel the lisergic trips of "The Zoo", "Silver", "The Meaning of Love" (a haunting ballad) and "The Drinking Song" (a groovy samba).
The 20-page CD booklet includes scores manuscripts, lyrics in English and Japanese, new extensive liner notes (only in Japanese) and many pics, although none of them from the actual sessions, except for the back cover photo that shows Kuhn & McFarland working in the studio.
The famous NY contractor Emile Charlap (interviewed on the brilliant DVD "This Is Gary McFarland") is credited as assistant producer, while Norman Schwartz and Eugene Martel are listed as executive and associate producers, respectively.
Among the six bonus tracks are four compositions by Kuhn (among them the famous "Trance", that would become the title track of his 1974 LP for ECM), one by Aretha Franklin ("Day Dreaming") and an up-tempo jazz take on Gato Barbieri's main theme for Bertolucci's "Last Tango in Paris".
Steve Kuhn (playing Rhodes exclusively) is surrounded by Steve Swallow (electric bass), Bruce Ditmas (drums) and Sue Evans (heavily influenced by Airto, and that's a compliment!) on these six tracks, recorded at George Klabin's famous Sound Ideas Studio, in a single-day session on September 14, 1973, probably as a demo.
Although the bonus tracks seem to have been transferred from the original 2-track mixed tapes, the material from the 1972 Buddah album was copied from vinyl source by mastering engineer Michael Fossenkemper, since the tapes were never found in the Buddah vaults. Not a big problem. The musical eloquence stands out.

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