With hypersensitive lyricism and dialogue taken to an art form, jazz greats Archie Shepp and Joachim Kuhn demonstrate a rare ability to flow totally with the energy of the moment. Their playing is supreme, the improv sparkling, and there s unabated faith in the moment, in instinct and in each other. Whether conjuring up standards, interpreting their own compositions or letting loose in free improvisation, they stand on the same continental divide, fully engaging body and soul and holding nothing back.
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Kuhn is well known in Europe, especially in a trio (or smaller) format. His playing adds depth and sparkle to any trio/duo he's involved with. Check out his playing with Ornette Coleman on the album "Ornette + Joachim Kuhn/Colors" for a fine example of his piano style.
This set, from 2010, is a good example of the type of intuitiveness that sometimes happens in jazz. At times Shepp's playing is open and elongated, other times he throws out a flurry of notes that skitter along reminiscent of Coleman. And all the while Kuhn's playing is simultaneously laying a foundation for Shepp, and adding color to the tune. At times their playing sounds as if they've been together for some time, rather than a short while.
Listen to "Transmitting" for a good example of the duo at their best. Also listen to "Nina", which is a slightly sad, whimsical piece that has some beautiful playing by Shepp. Again Kuhn is right there with Shepp every step of the way. "Driving Miss Daisy" has some of Shepp's finest playing on the album. His tone is full and assured sounding. It's never hurried--you can hear how he places each note or cluster carefully-- and all the while Kuhn is adding a fullness and depth to the tune. All the tracks are by Shepp or Kuhn (or both), along with some well chosen (and telling) compositions from others. Coleman's "Lonely Woman", Ellington's Sophisticated Lady", and the well known "Harlem Nocturne", which has been done by Johnny Otis, The Viscounts, and countless others. The addition of outside compositions gives the album added depth and interest. Listen to what Shepp does with "Harlem Nocturne" and you'll hear what I mean.
Shepp has played in duo settings with a pianist before. Check out the beautiful "Trouble In Mind", and "Goin' Home", both with Horace Parlan on piano, recorded in the 1980's. These two sets are probably as close to Ben Webster (in tone and style) as Shepp has ever played. The former is probably the better of the two--but by a slim margin. This 2010 set shows Shepp slipping over into free jazz ("Sketch")--but not formless "noise" (as some characterize this genre)--but he doesn't stay there for long. His (and Kuhn's) playing has a certain organic logic to it. This is refined, intuitive, intelligent jazz.
Is this an "easy" listen? It depends. Multiple playings will reward the listener with an appreciation of how closely Kuhn and Shepp listen to each other. The more you hear this set the more you'll discover something in the music. The music is sometimes demanding, but the rewards are worth it.