Invisible Man

Peter Kuhn / Dave Sewelson / Gerald Cleaver / Larry Roland
Our Earth / The World
USA PFMENTUM CD096 CD (2016)

Every ‘new’ jazz recording that crosses my ears leads me to resume wondering what’s left to say anymore; seems that every grouping, permutation and dynamic is as done-to-death as internet porn. And while I’m tempted to adopt an ‘it’s not you, it’s me’ line towards my increasing indifference, I really do want to feel the magic that once lured me into this field.

Like much of the jazz I’ve reviewed, reeds man Peter Kuhn’s latest group-leader recording is a case in point: noteworthy affiliates, seasoned players, the support of a forward-minded label, some environmental rhetoric and a back story to boot: this is Kuhn’s first titular work in… three decades (if Discogs informs correctly), after drug addiction took him out of the game for two decades: a hiatus to soundly gainsay Miles Davis’ late ‘70s disappearance.

The Davis parallel is unfortunately as unavoidable as it is unappealing. After the incendiary ‘electric’ period, Davis never really got his game back, and I sense that Kuhn’s return to the fore is a triumph of determination more than it is a reclamation of the throne. His power is more latent than evident, which is not to underestimate his prowess: he manages all sorts of wind-driven chicanery in tandem baritone/sopranino saxophonist Dave Sewelson. Setting the pace, they rage and relax in reasonable ratio; each of the three performances breaching the 10-minute mark without breaking a sweat. William Parker claims to have ‘hopped with joy’ at these life-affirming sounds herein, though as a friend and associate there’s a measure of well-wishing bias to be read into this.

And indeed, within the quartet there’s a sense of going-through-the-motions that suits the mood of group-support camaraderie, so enjoyment will depend on whether one buys into the narrative or not. The group kicks off with a fissiparous abandon: ripping and flailing to the heart’s content, only gradually aware of the venture’s joint nature. While their energy never quite hits such heady heights as made so many of John Zorn’s Masada quartet records such a breathless experience, the group at least manages to marshall a marathon’s worth of energy for the first set at least. That said, the bass is planted so low in the mix as to be inaudible at times. A bigger problem however lies in the slow sections, which take far too long to whip up new energy and consequently direction. Quit while you’re ahead guys.

The main problem though is how generic such recordings sound, given the prevalence of the format: a picture of a moment in time, which quickly loses relevance when taken out of context. Kuhn’s story may yet take an upswing, but until some bravery is brought to bear in their presentation or treatment (and I say this as someone who has enjoyed all four tracks of Albert Ayler’s Spiritual Unity played simultaneously), recordings such as this will keep jazz sealed in amber.

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