Joachim Kühn – Touch the Light
(ACT 9766-2. Album Review by Julian Maynard-Smith)
Put the words ‘music’ and ‘Ibiza’ in the same sentence and many people will visualise either superstar DJs pumping out techno bangers to hordes of sweat-soaked clubbers or the sort of chill-out music that provides coffee shops with aural wallpaper. Few would picture a villa on a quieter part of the island from which wafts the sound of a solitary Steinway played by a jazz legend in his mid-seventies, the great Joachim Kühn.
The album came about when ACT founder Siegfried ‘Siggi’ Loch suggested that Kühn consider doing an album of ballads. The timing might well have helped, as all the pieces were recorded in Kühn’s home on the island during August 2019, May 2020 and October 2020 – and what’s a musician stuck in Covid lockdown with a Steinway and a DAT recorder to do but play and record? Kühn was certainly productive, providing Loch with a horde of around forty tracks (often multiple takes of the same pieces) to choose from.
The eventual selection is eclectic but very personal to Kühn. Weather Report’s A Remark You Made recalls Kühn’s gratitude to Joe Zawinul, a juror at the 1966 Gulda competition in Vienna that helped a 22-year-old Kühn escape from East Germany; the Allegretto from Beethoven’s 7th Symphony recalls not only the importance of Beethoven’s music to Kühn (who started his life as a classical pianist) but also Kühn’s nickname ‘Beethoven’ inspired by his resemblance to the composer; and Last Tango in Paris, composed by the Argentine tenor saxophonist Gato Barbieri, is a tune that Kühn played on the original movie soundtrack and many times later in his renowned trio with Daniel Humair and Jean-François Jenny-Clark.
Reeds players have inspired other choices among the pieces here, perhaps a nod to the fact that Kühn plays alto saxophone as well as piano, and that his elder brother Rolf is a jazz clarinettist. Milton Nascimento’s very hummable and pretty Ponta de Areia (played here with a lullaby-like delicacy) was popularised by Wayne Shorter; and Mal Waldron’s Warm Canto (played with stately solemnity) was originally performed by Eric Dolphy on clarinet.
Other tunes include Stardust, given a Debussy-esque richness of voicing on the chorus; two Kühn originals, Sintra and the eponymous Touch the Light; Bob Marley’s Redemption Song, also treated to lush jazz reharmonisations; Blue Velvet, which has the languid feel of a pianist playing to an empty bar after closing time; and Prince’s Purple Rain, which Kühn distils to the essence of its melody for a spacious and reflective interpretation that’s shot through with the blues – as is Fever, on which Kühn taps out the famous bass riff with finger-clicking precision.
Finishing the album is a heartfelt performance of Bill Evans’s Peace Piece, which Kühn was inspired to revisit after hearing it performed by the classical pianist Igor Levit (and do listen to that version too – it’s gorgeous).
Kühn has well and truly delivered the ‘album of ballads’ that Siggi Loch asked for, the flash and fire of a younger Kühn having mellowed into a deep-felt warmth and wisdom that befit a pianist who’s been performing for over fifty years. The album’s title Touch the Light was inspired by the sunsets over the sea that the pianist watches from his terrace – and the glowing fire of this meditative album is its own kind of sunset.
LINK: Touch the Light on ACT’s Bandcamp site
Joachim Kühn. Photo Credit ACT/ Silvio Magaglio