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Peter Stenshoel's Album of the Week – The Kuhn Brothers

Peter Stenshoel, KPCC engineer, has a lot of LPs. He brings a different one to work every week and displays it in his cubicle, and explains it for the John Rabe Blog:

If this were a more perfect world, somebody like Clint Eastwood would have made a Cold War movie about Rolf and Joachim Kuhn. It would boast the elements of escape from Communist Germany, brilliant, inventive music, and a heartfelt reunion of two brothers, who came of age on opposite sides of the Berlin Wall. When Joachim defected from Leipzig, East Germany, in 1966, he was able to finally see his brother Rolf, who had left the East many years before.

That these sibling jazzsters remain virtually unknown in the United States does not speak for the singular talents each has brought to the world of improvised music. I was lucky to have found this album as a cut-out at a Target store in 1968.  Seeing it was on Impulse Records (home of John Coltrane, Chico Hamilton, Archie Shepp, et. al..) I figured $3.50 was a good risk, even though, as a 14 year-old, my budget was decidedly on the depleted side.

I was not disappointed. The energy of this package rivals any jazz disc, and here's why:  There is a 15 year difference of age between the brothers. When Rolf, born in 1929, was learning his chops on clarinet, Benny Goodman was reigning king of the instrument.  Kuhn absorbed the master but then developed a much more modern, but still swinging, sound. His tone is round, almost thrillingly so, and eschews shrillness.  His intonation is dead-on. 

Young Joachim, even at that early age, had developed a unique piano improvisation method.  He by-passed, stylistically, the respective schools of Horace Silver, Oscar Peterson, Herbie Hancock and even McCoy Tyner. My hunch is that growing up in East Germany, he had some radically different influence.  If you need to look for antecedents, you can hear strains of Bud Powell, but taken into the stratosphere. Joachim here plays extremely fast, frequently in stunning unison.  That is, each hand plays impossible runs an octave apart, positing instantaneous invention of great intelligence. 

An avant-garde approach rules the day here, with hammering, a loping, discovery-laden approach to rhythm and meter. Now, counter that with a student of Benny Goodman-style swing, who, in order to play with his younger brother, has adapted his abilities to stretch the rock of tradition across the sandy shore of passionate experimentation. That tension (fueled by Trane’s ace bassist Jimmy Garrison and European young lion drummer Aldo Romano), is what helps make this Bob Thiele production unforgettable, at least for me.

More Kuhn:

(This week on Off-Ramp with John Rabe, the Eat-LA/Off-Ramp Collaboration continues with a visit to Santa Clarita, a growing foodie Mecca.)