Steve Kuhn: Non-Fiction (ECM 1124)
Steve Kuhn piano, percussion
Steve Slagle soprano and alto saxophones, flute, percussion
Harvie Swartz bass
Bob Moses drums
Recorded April 1978 at Tonstudio Bauer, Ludwigsburg
Produced by Manfred Eicher
Steve Kuhn is the all-purpose element: his presence heightens any musical concoction. Like no jazz pianist I know, he is aware of the negative spaces between his notes and shapes those spaces to suit the emotional needs of the tune. And what a set of tunes we have in Non-Fiction, a sorely out-of-print firecracker in dire need of a digital fuse. Speaking of conflagration, nothing singes our brow in any Kuhn project quite like Firewalk," which, despite its characteristically spacious feel, is clear and present (I bow to the uncredited engineer on this one). Kuhn accolades aside, it's the sopranism of reedman Steve Slagle that really sets these coals to glowing and cradles every assured step in the liberation of play. Bob Moses and Harvie Swartzan ideally suited rhythm section if there ever was onelock the Random Thoughts" that follow into lively traction. Slagle opts for flute and alto sax over a constantly shifting sonic palette. Whenever he isn't breathing, he keeps his hands busy with additional percussion. (Unfortunately, the latter comes across as intrusive to my ears during headphone listening. External speakers will remedy this.) A Dance With The Wind" and The Fruit Fly" reverse the scales with a collective dose of whimsy and nostalgia. Swartz is simply fantastic here, weaving deftly through Kuhn's canvas of vamps with distinct yet harmonious brushstrokes of its own. If anything has been missing so far, we find it all collected in Alias Dash Grapey," which has it all: a sweeping piano intro, replete with unrestrained cries from Kuhn, a spirited collage of solos (Moses ever palpable), and a deep sense of communication.
This is a tight album with plenty to unpack with repeated listening. Its energies fluctuate in volume, but always to the beat of Kuhn's erudite dictation. As worth tracking down on vinyl as it is waiting for an appearance on CD.
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