Steve Kuhn: Stella by Starlight
Stella by Starlight
Steve Kuhn (piano)
Live at Birdland (Blue Note 72992)
Recorded: live at Birdland, New York City, July 7-8, 2006
Rating: 97/100 (learn more)
There was a time when Steve Kuhn was criticized as a pianist for having a weak left hand and a less than compelling rhythmic sense, but that time is long past. Today he is the complete package, as he proved once again in his reunion with Ron Carter and Al Foster at Birdland, some 20 years after the same trio's Village Vanguard gig and resulting pair of much-admired albums. One of Kuhn's strengths has always been his ability to transform a well-traveled and even overplayed standard into something uniquely different and captivatingly fresh. On the Live at Birdland CD he accomplishes this most notably with the up-tempo "Confirmation" and the ballad "Stella by Starlight."
Dedicated to his mother Stella, this "Stella by Starlight" contains an ethereal opening that certainly owes a debt to Bill Evans, as does the interpretation as a whole, but is nonetheless personalized and undiluted Kuhn. While the pianist assuredly explores the tune's harmonies with only passing references to actual snippets of the melody, Carter exhibits an always in the moment responsiveness to Kuhn's probings. The bassist's beautifully articulated solo is seasoned with sensibly placed quotes from the likes of "You Better Go Now" and "Rockin' in Rhythm," and is technically stunning and ever evolving. Kuhn's subsequent improv is distinguished by a ringing timbre, an emotionally impassioned and yet logically structured series of extended lines, and a concluding impressionistic swirl of arpeggios and trills. The ecstatic reaction by the Birdland audience says it all.
Reviewer: Scott Albin