The Permanently Youthful Old Master
Joachim Kühn is a German pianist of world class, and a stand-alone figure in European jazz. He shows absolutely no signs either of slackening or of surrendering to his age - he is in his early seventies. Kühn's musical curiosity is as boundless as it always was, and his urge to keep creating new music is undimmed. It seems as if for him to stand still would be to go backwards. He lives in a finca in a remote part of Ibiza, overlooking the Mediterranean, where he is to be found either at the piano – he plays for hours every day - or dipping into his vast library of music. He has over 1,500 CDs, ranging from old recordings to up-to-the-minute releases.
For “Beauty & Truth” he and producer Siggi Loch have made a selection of new and old pieces, reaching out into unfamiliar repertoire, and recorded them with the new trio. “These are strong melodies which can be given a really distinctive shape, like for example “Blues For Pablo” by Gil Evans” he explains. “The secret of that piece lies in just five notes, but they are the key to unlock a whole musical cosmos.” There are also pieces which in their different ways are of personal significance to him. “Kattorna” by Krzysztof Komeda is a case in point: “I was present at the recording sessions for the album “Astigmatic” in Warsaw in 1965. The memory of having heard this piece just popped up in my head. Komeda and I met at that time in Warsaw. Both of us were playing with our bands at the famous 'Jazz Jamboree' in the National Philharmonic Hall. He explained to me his recording plans for the following day. I was curious, and he invited me to listen in. For me, Komeda was even at that time one of the great visionaries of European jazz.”
Kühn's original compositions on “Beauty & Truth” captivate the listener with catchy melodies with the character of earworms, which serve as jumping-off points for his improvising adventures. There is “Because Of Mouloud”, which has become something of a Joachim Kühn hit. There is also “Transmitting”, a spacious tune which hovers, trance-like. “Machineria” is a punchy virtuosi Etude - fugal, up-tempo, in which the pianist's left and right hands become enmeshed. This album also presents Kühn as an interpreter of the music of The Doors. A reggae-dub track by Stand High Patrol, which Eric Schaefer brought to the studio, is also part of the trio's repertoire.
Kühn, it is clear, would not be Kühn (his surname in German, incidentally, means bold or brave) if he wasn't adding something original and personal to existing templates. By re-harmonising or re-casting the rhythm and the meter of a tune, he transforms it, with complete assurance, in to a Kühn original. A good example is “Sleep Safe And Warm,” the familiar melody from Roman Polanski's film “Rosemary's Baby”, which is first played straight, and is then cloaked in completely new harmonies.
It was inevitable that Ornette Coleman, who died in June 2015, and played exclusively with Kühn from 1996 to 2000, would also figure prominently. The title track “Beauty And Truth” is a miniature for solo piano. It serves as a prologue to the album, both setting its tone and defining its concept, which is to get straight to the essence of what each composition is about, to discover its intrinsic truth, and to elicit the authentic beauty from it.
It can quite clearly be heard quite how much this new trio has energized Kühn and spurred him on. The bass of Chris Jenkins is stentorian and self-assured, yet stoical. It underpins and anchors the band. Drummer Eric Schaefer brings the same multiple virtues to this different context that make him such a success as a stalwart of the Michael Wollny Trio: his exceptional taste and judgement, his power and richness of invention, and a beautifully attuned and instinctive balance between refinement and earthiness. “For the past ten years,” says Kühn, “in the trio with Majid Bekkas und Ramon López, I was looking for an African-influenced sound. Now I am coming back after several years to the classic piano trio. The trio with Jean-François Jenny-Clark and Daniel Humair was in existence for 30 years. That really was the trio of a lifetime. The depth and the intensity we found were incredible. In Eric and Chris I have found a new dream team. It is very inspiring to play with them, and to do very different things.”
In the twelve pieces on “Beauty & Truth” a different Joachim Kühn can be heard: his piano-playing is powerful and clear, and musically he has a way of going straight to the heart of the matter. He is always solidly grounded in the groove, he plays with unconfined joy and with buckets of soul too. As he always did.