Since emerging from the shadows of a self-imposed exile from the improvised music scene a few years ago, woodwind master Peter Kuhn has taken consistent and rewarding steps toward reclaiming his place as a vital force in the free-music community -- especially as the leader of the Peter Kuhn Trio, the sublimely balanced San Diego unit featuring drummer Nathan Hubbard and young bass virtuoso Kyle Motl.
On Friday, July 1, the Kuhn trio held a CD-release party to celebrate the occasion of Kuhn’s first effort as a leader in 38 years. “The Other Shore” was released on NoBusiness Records at the Logan Heights multi-arts venue Bread & Salt before a large and enthusiastic group of attentive listeners.
The evening began with a meditation to honor the victims of the Orlando Pulse Nightclub massacre with Kuhn’s bass clarinet evoking soft overtones that layered across Hubbard’s malleted tom-toms and the groaning bow of Motl. Kuhn’s reverie soon keyed a sense of transfiguration as he coursed through the registers of his horn, activating growls and shrieks over Hubbard’s agitated percussion and Motl’s violent pizzicato.
Hubbard led off the next piece with a wicked groove combining rimshots and the striking of several conical metal devices he laid across the surface of his floor toms as Motl kept a constant activity of strums and pedal tones in support of Kuhn’s whinnying B-flat clarinet. Soon, the inherent mayhem of Motl’s aesthetic came to the fore with a bowed solo that continued the virtuosic tradition of David Izenson and Mark Dresser. Kuhn’s re-entry was all blue wail, and I couldn’t help but hear the spirit of John Coltrane in the remarkable ebb and flow this trio created.
Mr. Kuhn picked up an alto for an appropriate celebration of the late Marco Eneidi, setting a roil into motion with a sandblasted peel into the bare rafters of the industrial-chic warehouse as Hubbard churned relentless waves of percussive motion -- the drone of their combined cacophony drowning out the quieter output of Motl, whose sound got a little lost in the huge space. I kept wanting to turn his amp up, but having not mastered that whole invisibility idea, thought the better of it.
A dedication to the reedman’s mother Helen (who was in the front row) found Kuhn cradling a super resonant and tender tenor saxophone over Hubbard’s whispering brushes and the pensive throb of Motl’s double-bass. Kuhn used his pliant tone to bore a small tear into the soft flesh of this rubato ballad -- climaxing with a short cadenza of ecstatic screams in the altissimo register. You would have expected the tune to gently wind towards a conclusion -- but at that moment, Motl surfaced with an absolutely monstrous contribution. I had to make sure he hadn’t grown a third hand.
Hubbard’s solo dominated the following piece with floor tom storytelling and lawn sprinkler hi-hat commentary before incorporating the whole of his kit into an ebullient blur of joyful motion -- creating an irresistible bed for Kuhn’s fragmented clarinet and the furious walk of Motl, who began the final number with an astonishing display of two handed “harp-harmonic” flurries that reminded me of African thumb piano (kalimba) music. Kuhn took the baton on alto saxophone with a rhapsodic and abrasive series of squalls, signaling a Hubbard soft-click soliloquy and a hyper vigilant Motl outburst that found the young master inserting drumsticks in between the strings of his bass while drawing long ponticello strokes with the bow. Kuhn returned with warbled vibrato, barely audible key pad clicks and a section where he seemed to be channeling a blend of Lee Konitz and Henry Threadgill, arriving at an ecstatic apex that found him quoting a raw dissertation of Miles Davis’ “Milestones,” as Motl and Hubbard dug deep into the free-swing principle.
These cats are the real deal.