About the album
"Joachim Kühn has been a pioneering force and left a resounding mark on contemporary jazz. But despite this, the musical
cosmopolitan Joachim Kühn remains committed to a contemporary sound in the tradition of jazz, and in the context of European concert music. He reveals vehemence and sensitivity, masterful technique and imagination, an unmistakable tonal touch and an unerring feel fordynamics. In the interplay with musical partners of many years' standing, in ever-changing and often unusually challenging playing constellations, and alone in his solo concerts, Joachim Kühn makes music an unforgettable event."
This is what the director of the JazzFest Berlin, Bert Noglik, wrote of Joachim Kühn around five years ago. And when the pianist
celebrates his 70th birthday on 15 March this year, these words will still apply. The main reasons why Kühn is still Germany's only jazz
pianist with a global voice are that he has always remained true to himself and has fixed points of reference, and because he has found
his very own, inimitable style that transcends all categories, by trusting in formative influences and long-time companions.
Growing up in Leipzig, Kühn was inevitably exposed to that city's most famous musical son: Johann Sebastian Bach. Kühn grew up withhim in the classical way and took piano lessons with the local musical director Arthur Schmidt-Elsey. Without ever forgetting this education, it was, however, not long before he gave into his natural curiosity and thirst for freedom and founded the Joachim Kühn Trio; at the time the only professional jazz group in East Germany. His elder brother Rolf, the clarinettist, had led him to jazz, and Joachim followed him to the West after a few years delay in 1966. Hardly had he arrived, the brothers founded the Rolf & Joachim Kühn quartet and played at the legendary Newport Jazz Festival and at the Berliner Jazztage.
Kühn made the best of his newfound freedom, immersing himself in the jazz scenes of Los Angeles, New York, Hamburg and
Paris, in free jazz, in jazz rock and in world music, and the list of people he has performed with since then reads like a who's who of
jazz - from Stan Getz, Joe Henderson, Michael Brecker to avantgardists the likes of Don Cherry, Michel Portal, Jean Luc Ponty, Archie
Shepp and recently Pharoah Sanders, through to young guns like Michael Wollny, and the Russian saxophonist Alexey Kruglov. With the"Bach Now!" project in 2002, he erected a musical monument to his first and constant inspiration, together with the St. Thomas Choir of Leipzig, by melding the Renaissance music of the old master with the language of jazz. Just as much as creative encounters with others are a constant of his creativity, so are the working bands he plays in with familiar confidantes: as the only European pianist the man has ever worked with (!), a long and close musical friendship links him to Ornette Coleman.
Together with Daniel Humair and Jean-François Jenny-Clark he formed one of the authoritative trios of European jazz for decades.
The previously unreleased live concert recordings from the JazzFest Berlin that can be found on the "Birthday Edition" bring this
exceptional trio back to life. After giving their first concerts in the 70s, these three then began to intensify their collaboration in 1984. They were received with particular enthusiasm in France: "Un trio explosif!" the press and fans acclaimed.
Listening to the 1987 recordings from the Berlin Philharmonie, it quickly becomes clear just what explosive power
this formation had for the development of European jazz. Kühn, Humair and Jenny- Clark attain a level of ensemble playing that still today has no equal in terms of intensity and communication. Between freedom and down-to-earth compositions, the finest nuances and power play, with hot passion and cold calculation the trio builds up a jazz-musical tension that drives the audience through the extremes of emotion, to then release it in rapturous storms of exaltation.
Another constant in Joachim Kühn's work was and is Siggi Loch. He cast an eye on him very early on: "After a foray into the jazz
rock world, Joachim impressed me with his return to his inimitable way of playing the piano. For that reason I considered him to be the next German after Klaus Doldinger who would be able to build a reputation in America as well, and I signed him up to Atlantic in the mid-70s. We managed to gain that renown to some extent, and then our paths separated. But I never lost sight of him. And then, when I founded ACT in the nineties, there was no doubt in my mind that Joachim had to be a part of our ACT family." After years of pursuing different musical orientations, Kühn and Loch rejoined forces with a bang in 1994: The pianist was a key figure in the recordings of the jazz symphony "Europeana", still today one of the most outstanding recordings in the ACT catalogue.
Alongside Kühn, the crème de la crème of contemporary European improvised music came together here, including Albert Mangelsdorff,Django Bates, Klaus Doldinger, Richard Galliano and many others, backed by the NDR Hannover Radio Philharmonic Orchestra. The album, which came out in 1995, and was arranged by Michael Gibbs, combines the rich European tradition of music with jazz. It not only won the annual award of the German Record Critics Award, it is also still Kühn's most successful release on the ACT label. So it only makes sense that this recording, which paved the way for his career since the start of the 90s, completes the "Birthday Edition" alongside the ground-breaking Trio Kühn, Humair, Jenny-Clark.
To this day, Kühn has remained true to his "Europeana" concept, which spans continents, ages, styles and personalities, on
his solo, duet and trio albums of the past years. This is most notable with the now almost eight-year-old Wüstenjazz Trio, with the Moroccan guembri maestro Majid Bekkas and Spanish drummer Ramon Lopez, which shows that jazz is not a constricting corset for Kühn, but the global language of musical freedom.
So what does a hardcore musician, one who has won the German Record Critics Award several times, been attested the
"Album of the Year" by international magazines, won two ECHO awards (with his brother Rolf for his life's work and for "Out Of The Desert Live" as the best big-band album), do on his 70th birthday? "I don't want a party. I'm going to go into the studio in Berlin. Alone, with Walter Quintus, who has been my sound man for decades. The next day my brother Rolf is coming. We're just going to record, without any plans. Occasions like that usually generate their own euphoria, and that is the best basis for a recording..." So you can see, there is a lot that we can continue to expect from Joachim Kühn.
Joachim Kühn, born 15 March 1944 in Leipzig, is one of the few global German jazz stars. His piano playing defies categorisation and has blazed new trails for contemporary jazz. The musical citizen of the world Kühn considers himself bound to the jazz tradition, linked to European concert music, but most of all dedicated to a sound that is now. He reveals vehemence and sensitivity, masterful technique and imagination, an unmistakable feel for his keyboard and an unfailing sense of dynamics. Whether in the interplay with long-standing musician partners, in ever changing and often extraordinarily challenging band constellations or alone in his solo gigs, Joachim Kühn succeeds in making music an event.
Kühn has been leaving his mark on the international jazz scene since the 60s. As a 22 year-old, he took part in an international competition for young jazz musicians, and decided not to return to socialist East Germany. Instead he launched a global career. That same year his first album came out on the renowned label Impulse, after playing at the Newport Jazz Festival in the USA.
Since then he has played in often challenging constellations with musicians from all over the world, with the most diverse of musical backgrounds. He worked with distinguished free jazz exponents like Archie Shepp and Ornette Coleman, and with musicians the likes of Billy Cobham, Eddie Gomez, Michael Brecker and Joe Henderson in the 70s fusion scene of the American west coast. Then he formed an internationally leading piano trio in the 80s in Paris with the bassist Jean-François Jenny-Clark and the drummer Daniel Humair.
Just two years after the founding of ACT, he was the focal point of an all-star band in 1994, with, for example, Alfred Mangelsdorff, Klaus Doldinger, Django Bates and the Hannover Radio Philharmonic Orchestra. The large-scale manifesto that arose of a Europe-based jazz music "Europeana" also reflects Kühn's musical influences: Although dedicated to a contemporary jazz sound, he has always felt a connection to European concert music as well.
The genre-crossing concept is especially apparent in his solo playing, which has always been important to Joachim Kühn – and to a degree the true challenge among jazz pianists. So it is that on the solo album "Allegro Vivace" released by ACT in 2005, his own pieces are accompanied by compositions from Bach and Mozart, Coltrane and Coleman. This merging of such musical contrasts again illustrates Joachim Kühn's risk affinity and talent for improvisation.
He shows his virtuosity in duets as well, always with an attentive ear for his partner so they can interact on an equal footing. His collaborations with the up-and-coming pianist Michael Wollny ("Piano Works IX: Live at Schloss Elmau", 2009), the grandmaster of sax Heinz Sauer ("If (Blue) Then (Blue)", 2010) and Archie Shepp ("Wo!man", 2010 on Archieball) were all highly praised by critics. The former was even named Album of the Year by the French jazz magazine Jazzman.
His openness and spirit of discovery led Kühn to put together a trio, the likes of which had never been seen before. In 2003 he found two kindred spirits with regard to the desire to improvise, in the Moroccan Majid Bekkas, who plays the lute instruments guembri and oud, and the Spanish percussionist Ramon Lopez. And they brought with them their own cultural backgrounds and musical experiences. Their first album "Kalimba" in 2007 was followed by "Out Of The Desert" (2009), which was recorded in a session in the northern African desert with local musicians, and by "Chalaba" in 2011.
Considering this abundance of musical pioneers, international collaborations, and his for German jazz unparalleled status, it came as no surprise when Joachim Kühn was honoured with the ECHO Jazz for lifetime achievement in 2011, together with his brother Rolf. The second ECHO Jazz followed one year later. The collaboration of his "desert jazz" trio with the hr big band, "Out of the Desert live at Jazzfest Berlin", was distinguished as the Best Big Band Production.
On "Voodoo Sense", the fifth album with Majid Bekkas and Ramon Lopez, Kühn's respect for tradition is audible. Already the nearly 20-minute opener "Kulu Se Mama" – recorded together with Archie Shepp, a group of African percussionists and vocalists led by talking-drum maestro Kouassi Bessan Joseph – refers back to the Coltrane album of the same name from 1965. Whether with archaic world-music, the blues-soaked saxophone ballad "L’eternal Voyage" written especially for Shepp, studies of pianistic harmonics such as "Crossing The Mirror" or thundering drama such as the final piece "Firehorse" – with a little help from his friends, Kühn has once again taken another step in his search for the magic of his very own music, the Voodoo Sense as it were.
When Joachim Kühn celebrates his 70th birthday on 15 March 2014, he can look back on an amazing career as a pianist. But he wouldn't be Joachim Kühn if he wasn't still making new plans for the future.