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 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.