Mostly Coltrane

Steve Kuhn Trio, Joe Lovano

A recording that pays tribute to a musician of towering importance – and for Steve Kuhn an album of powerful memories. For two months in 1960, Kuhn, then just 21 years old, was the pianist in John Coltrane’s quartet: an unforgettable experience for a young musician, to embark each night into jazz of such torrential emotional intensity. Half-a-century later, joined by a team of gifted collaborators playing at the top of their form, Kuhn rechannels the energies of the era in an album of astonishing invention and wild beauty. Kuhn and Joe Lovano improvise gloriously together, riding the surging waves of Joey Baron’s polyrhythms, in a programme of tunes written by or strongly associated with Coltrane. Tracks include “Welcome”, “Song of Praise”, “Central Park West”, “Spiritual” and more. Recorded December 2008 at New York’s Avatar Studio.

Featured Artists Recorded

December 2008, Avatar Studios, New York

Original Release Date


  • 1Welcome
    (John Coltrane)
  • 2Song Of Praise
    (John Coltrane)
  • 3Crescent
    (John Coltrane)
  • 4I Want To Talk About You
    (Billy Eckstine)
  • 5The Night Has A Thousand Eyes
    (Jerome Brainin, Buddy Bernier)
  • 6Living Space
    (John Coltrane)
  • 7Central Park West
    (John Coltrane)
  • 8Like Sonny
    (John Coltrane)
  • 9With Gratitude
    (Steve Kuhn)
  • 10Configuration
    (John Coltrane)
  • 11Jimmy's Mode
    (John Coltrane)
  • 12Spiritual
    (John Coltrane)
  • 13Trance
    (Steve Kuhn)
Jazzman, Choc du mois
Classica, Choc du mois
Fono Forum, Empfehlung des Monats
Stereoplay, Jazz-CD des Monats
Piano News, Jazz-CD des Doppelmonats
There’s beauty and wisdom in nearly every note Steve Kuhn plays. That can happen when a pianist spends quality time with the likes of Stan Getz, Art Farmer and, for three eventful months in 1960, John Coltrane. Kuhn’s latest for ECM, Mostly Coltrane, is in part a fond look back. But it’s also simply an extension of the creative streak Kuhn’s been documenting on various labels for years. …
Mostly Coltrane honors the late sax legend with music of a picturesque, distinctly Kuhnian kind.
David R. Adler, TimeOut New York
Steve Kuhn’s moving tribute to the legendary saxophonist is fuelled by insider knowledge… Kuhn’s light touch and suspended harmonies differ from the fire-and-brimstone spirituality of the final model, but still capture the intensity, mixing classics, standards and two posthumously released late-period originals. Saxophonist Joe Lovano contributes his trademark trenchant lyricism, drummer Joey Baron adds clarity and the CD grows in stature with each listen.
Mike Hobart, Financial Times
Kuhn and Lovano have deep Coltrane connections. Kuhn played in Coltrane’s quartet in 1960, and Lovano long ago internalized Coltrane’s language. The fascination of this album is to hear them, in their maturity, venture in and out of Coltrane’s spiritual domain, drawing inspiration for their own spontaneous testaments and their own attitudes, which reflect more acceptance and less striving.
Thomas Conrad, JazzTimes
This album of nine Trane compositions, two standards and two Kun originals, is his tribute to arguably the most influential saxophonist in post-bop jazz. Lovano is not one of those who took only Trane’s freedom and intensity and turned them into circus acts of rapidly blown blathers of notes: here he evokes the essence of Trane’s music, which had at its core a sincere, sensitive emotional component that many fans missed beneath the surface turmoil. The arrangements demonstrate just how beautiful many of Trane’s tunes were.
Barry Witherden, BBC Music Magazine
Kuhn affirme un jeu modal, mais le raffine à l'extrême. Pianiste intimiste aux notes légères et transparentes, il joue différemment en quartette, donne davantage de poids à ses notes, leur apporte une dynamique qui répond ici à la sonorité pleine et profonde du saxophone ténor d'un Joe Lovano au meilleur de sa forme.
Pierre de Chocqueuse, Jazzman
Dass er im Alter von 21 Jahren mit John Coltrane, einem der größten Jazzmusiker des 20. Jahrhunderts zusammengespielt hat, hat der New Yorker Pianist Steve Kuhn bis heute nicht vergessen. … Dabei ist Kuhns Stil ein anderer als der aller Pianisten, die mit Coltrane zusammenspielten: überbordender, reicher. Mit Joe Lovano hat er eine bestechende Wahl getroffen. Der Tenorsaxophonist spielt glänzend, facettenreich, nachdenklich, dann wieder dynamisch, zwingend und raumgreifend.
Alexander Kluy, Rheinischer Merkur
Auf seinem neuen Album Mostly Coltrane stellt sich der Pianist Steve Kuhn gemeinsam mit dem Saxophonisten Joe Lovano, dem Bassisten David Finck und dem Schlagzeuger Joey Baron dreizehn Stücken aus dem Gesamtwerk von John Coltrane. Als wäre das nicht Herausforderung genug, spielt er auch keine der üblichen Coltrane-Klassiker. Die vier Musiker versuchen sich ausschließlich an Balladen und an jenen spirituellen Improvisationen, mit denen Coltrane den Jazz verließ… Und doch schaffen Kuhn und Lovano hier eine Spannung, die Coltranes Ausbrüche aus den Grenzen des Bebop weiterführen.
Andrian Kreye, Süddeutsche Zeitung
Einerseits ist dieses Album ein typisch Kuhn’sches. Andererseits hat er hier so viel „Coltrane-Spiritualität“ getankt, dass er fast die gesamte frühe und mittlere Coltrane-Periode wieder aufleben lässt, einschließlich dessen, was daraus noch hätte entstehen können, hätte jener noch länger gelebt. Mit Lovano, Finck und Baron hätte er keine besseren Begleiter haben können. Eines seiner besten Alben!
Ulfert Goeman, Jazzpodium
Heute bleibt nur die Erinnerung. Und diese Musik. Die alten Coltrane-Songs, Joe Lovano am Tenor, umschwirrt von Joey Barons Becken, gestützt von David Fincks Kontrabass. Darüber Kuhns Tastenkünste. Eine einzige, lange Ballade, die sich manchmal ganz frei im Material einnistet. Ein Großereignis.
Tilman Urbach, Fono Forum
Der Blick zurück hat oft etwas Nostalgisches. Doch Steve Kuhn … verklärt bei seiner Hommage bewundernswerter Weise nichts. Im Gegenteil: Gemeinsam mit seinen langjährigen Begleitern…, die Tenorsaxofonist Lovano ganz selbstverständlich integrieren, unterzieht Kuhn die Musik des legendären Bläsers einer kritischen Würdigung, die dessen Laufbahn grandios reflektiert. … Eine zauberhafte Klangreise, die Coltrane in neuem Licht glänzen lässt. Und dem von der breiten Masse unterschätzten Steve Kuhn jene Aufmerksamkeit sichert, die ihm seit einem halben Jahrhundert gebührt.
Sven Thielmann, Stereoplay

A multi-faceted celebration of the magisterial music of John Coltrane, presented by a player who was the original pianist in the Coltrane Quartet. At the end of 1959, when preparing to leave Miles Davis and commit himself to a career as a leader, the great saxophonist called upon Kuhn, bassist Steve Davis and drummer Pete La Roca to join him for live performances. “In January, February and March of 1960, I was privileged to work with John Coltrane at the Jazz Gallery in New York City”, says Kuhn in his introductory note to “Mostly Coltrane”. “This music reflects my deep respect for him.”

On this recording, Kuhn and his fellow musicians, with Joe Lovano at the very top of his form (rising to the considerable challenge of playing tenor sax on a Coltrane tribute), and Joey Baron channelling and transforming the influence of Elvin Jones, explore the highways and byways of Coltrane’s musical journey. In these performances, Kuhn not only returns to pieces he once played with Coltrane – “Central Park West”, “The Night Has A Thousand Eyes”, “I Want To Talk About You” – but follows Trane’s story through to the end. Kuhn’s extremely well-plotted tribute includes versions of material (“Jimmy’s Mode”, “Configuration”) which only surfaced in 1994, nearly 30 years after Coltrane’s death, on the posthumously-issued “Stellar Regions” album assembled by Alice Coltrane.

The album opens, however, with “Welcome”, from 1965’s “Kulu Sé Mama”, of which Coltrane once wrote: “’Welcome’ is that feeling you have when you finally reach awareness, an understanding, which you have earned through struggle. A welcome feeling of peace.”

Steve Kuhn himself sounds so unlike either of the pianists most closely associated with Coltrane – Alice Coltrane or McCoy Tyner – that it is tempting to speculate on what might have been made, had his time with Coltrane been extended. But at 21, Kuhn was still finding his own musical directions, a prodigiously-talented pianist whose work was yet to find its artistic focus. With hindsight he can bring all his knowledge to bear on the material – and the results are riveting, as he develops his cogent musical arguments in a span from balladry to free playing.

The level of group understanding is as evident as the strength of the individual contributions. Although Joe Lovano is joining an established band here – Kuhn’s long-running trio with David Finck and Joey Baron (whose “Remembering Tomorrow” album was recorded by ECM fourteen years ago) – there is never a sense of soloist-with-rhythm-section: this is a thoroughly-integrated quartet, which itself is a ‘Coltranean’ position, Coltrane Quartet music being amongst the first in post-bop jazz to make of the music more than the sum of its solos.
This was a lesson not lost on the young Joe Lovano (b. 1952) who grew up immersed in Coltrane’s sound. His father, saxophonist Tony Lovano had jammed with Coltrane in Cleveland in the early 1950s. Joe learned to play by studying, with attention to detail, all subsequent stations on Coltrane’s journey, and his involvement with the music has been a lifelong passion.

In the mid-1970s, shortly after moving to New York, Joe Lovano played with Rashied Ali. In 1997 he recorded with Elvin Jones in a trio programme that already included Lovano’s own tributes to Coltrane, and in our present century he has toured and recorded with McCoy Tyner, still monitoring his own growth as a mature artist with reference to Coltrane’s circle.

“Mostly Coltrane” was recorded in New York’s Avatar Studios in December 2008, with Manfred Eicher producing.