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Monday, November 9, 2009

Rolf Kühn & Tri-O - Close-Up (Jazzwerktsatt, 2009) ****

Rolph Kühn is without a doubt one of the best jazz clarinetists, and he has actively participated in the history of jazz in the last sixty years (he is now 80), playing amongst others in radio big bands, playing in the Benny Goodman orchestra, with Tommy Dorsey, becoming the director of the German TV orchestra.

The amazing thing about the music on this CD, is that it sounds so fresh and full of musical wonder, as if a child discovers a new world and watches it full of perplexity and admiration. That's not only the feeling you get as a listener, but you also have the impression that the musicians themselves share the same feeling.

That being said, even if there is quite some free form, this music swings from beginning to end, albeit often very implicitly. The themes and melodies are often quite complex, with rhythm and tempo changes, long unison lines, sudden twists and turns, yet leaving quite some space for improvisation, emotional development too, and even into real avant-garde moments (just listen to the long middle excursion on "D-Train").

Kühn's mastery of the jazz idiom is admirable, yet instead of being stuck into it, he keeps changing it, surrounding himself with young(er) musicians who add the right touches of new sounds into the mix. They are Ronny Graupe on guitar, Johannes Fink on bass and Christian Lillinger on drums, with Matthias Schriefl on trumpet on two tracks, and they are fabulous in co-developing and performing Kühn's musical vision. And their technical skills are truly excellent. I wrote positively about Lillinger's drumming before, and about Lillinger's and Graupe's skills on Hyperactive Kid. And so are Fink and Schriefl, a pleasure to hear the subtletly, confidence and flexibility they have. The real star, no doubt, is Kühn himself.

To have this level of musical creativity, integrity, and open-mindedness at Kühn's age is remarkable, but even without that knowledge, the music on this album is really strong, measured and passionate.

© stef