Sunday, May 27, 2007

Steve Kuhn Solo Piano at the Fazioli Salon

Steve Kuhn Solo Piano at The Fazioli Salon : May 26, 2007

It was an almost balmy night in New York to start off this Memorial Day weekend as we strolled leisurely past Carnegie Hall and made our way to a small piano salon just down the street from the venerable concert hall. Tucked away at 211 West 58th Street the Fazioli Salon is the brainchild of Jim and Genevieve Luce and it is a treasure of a concept that deserves our attention and support. They simply put together fabulously accomplished pianists with a work of musical and visual art , the Faziloi piano, and showcase both in a limited and intimate setting . The room is inauspiciously in the rear of the Klavierhaus piano showroom, which showcases these Italian made masterpieces of musical sound and aesthetic design. The size of the room limits the attendance to about twenty-five lucky individuals. Being one of the lucky ones for this solo performance by the pianist Steve Kuhn was a treat not to be missed.

Steve Kuhn is a local treasure who seems to have been somewhat overlooked by the jazz media and mainstream jazz fans. Although a contemporary of the more lauded Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea or Keith Jarrett, Kuhn is a fabulously accomplished artist in his own right that has created some memorable performances over the years. He has an illustrious career that included stints with Kenny Dorham, Stan Getz, Art Farmer and briefly with John Coltrane. In the trio format where the interplay between piano and base is so extraordinary and which he demonstrably prefers, he has been accompanied by such luminary base players the likes of Scott La Faro, Miroslav Vitous, Steve Swallow, Buster Williams, Eddie Gomez, Gary Peacock, David Finck and Ron Carter. His discography is astounding in its depth and variation. With this infusion of musical influences, Kuhn has forged his own unique percussive style of playing that was wonderfully alive and vibrant at his solo performance at the Fazioli salon.

In his dapper signature black pants and jacket, he was introduced by Jim Luce, the master of ceremonies, as the maestro and he surely proved that to be the case. He started off the first of two sets with a wonderful medley of “Once upon a Time” that slowly transformed itself, ever so subtly; into the Johnny Mandel Johnny Mercer tune “Emily”. He played several of his own songs including “Two by Two” from his recent album “Live at Birdland”, which he recorded with Ron Carter and Al Foster, and a wonderfully textural version of his powerfully rhythmic “Oceans in the Sky “ which he originally recorded back in 1989, with Miroslav Vitous and Aldo Romano, and is now wonderfully rethought on his newest release “Promise Kept”. He seamless melded Claude Debussy’s La Plus Que Lente into Billy Strayhorn’s Passion Flower, a performance so perfectly blended as to make the two songs seem destined to be paired with each other in precisely this way. During the performance the maestro showed a particular affinity to the saxophone greats of the era that have apparently had tremendous influence on his musical sensibilities. His homage to Coltrane, Rollins and Parker was paid separately by brilliantly executed renditions of “Countdown”, “Airegin” and his ending piece of “Confirmation”. His connection to the spirit of these players, especially Rollins, cast a spell on both him and his audience.

Since the Fazioli salon is such an intimate setting, I was able to intently watch his technique and fully appreciate the sound that he created from the depths of this truly magical piano. I was told that each piano is made by hand in Italy and that perhaps only one hundred a year are fashioned. The piano’s wonderfully full resonance was especially adaptive to Kuhn’s particularly percussive but lyrical approach His fluttering left hand created a wave of sound that builds tremendous tension in his playing while never losing its sensitivity. His masterful use of the entire keyboard with both hands being amazingly free to cross traditional boundaries of base chords left and melody right showed a technique not often exhibited with such confidence and ease. His subtle use of singular notes at appropriate times done with a distinctive stab of his right thumb or the precise pounding by his left fist verified his mallet like approach that was reminiscent of a drummer’s punctuation on this marvelously percussive instrument. The result was surprisingly never brash or discordant, but to the contrary created a wonderful counterpoint to his amazingly beautiful and lyrical interpretations rendered by his incredibly swift and sensitive hands..

The night proved to be awe inspiring on several counts. The maestro Steve Kuhn is a treasure that should not be missed. The Fazioli piano is an instrument to behold both sonically and visually and the Fazioli Salon piano series is a true New York music lovers treasure. You can check out the salon’s remaining concert venue at

Copyright Ralph A. Miriello 2007

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