Promises Kept

Steve Kuhn with Strings

CD18,90 out of print
Featured Artists Recorded

June-September 2000, Edison Studios, New York

Original Release Date


  • 1Lullaby
    (Steve Kuhn)
  • 2Life’s Backward Glance
    (Steve Kuhn)
  • 3Trance
    (Steve Kuhn)
  • 4Morning Dew
    (Steve Kuhn)
  • 5Promises Kept
    (Steve Kuhn)
  • 6Adagio
    (Steve Kuhn)
  • 7Celtic Princess
    (Steve Kuhn)
  • 8Nostalgia
    (Steve Kuhn)
  • 9Oceans In The Sky
    (Steve Kuhn)
  • 10Pastorale
    (Steve Kuhn)
Piano News, CD des Doppelmonats
The lineup on Promises Kept says it all: Steve Kuhn with strings. Kuhn is a jazz pianist whose recordings may have been out of the jazz mainstream for most of the five decades his career has spanned, but it hardly matters. Kuhn’s style is signature, though his explorations have taken him to many different terrains in the world of jazz, from knotty post-bop to pointillism and modalism and through the nefarious world of 20th century vanguard composition to the place where listeners find him now: the place of a supreme and unabashed lyricism that is as sophisticated and forward-looking as it is historical and inclusive … The title track, an homage to Kuhn’s Hungarian immigrant parents, waltzes and glides between Old Europe and a far more romantic vision of America than exists today. In sum, this is one of the finest recordings Kuhn has ever issued.
Thom Jurek, American Music Guide
The program consists of choice items from Kuhn’s own pen. And arranger-conductor Carlos Franzetti does a fine job of drawing out the stately, graceful quality of the pianist’s compositions. … With his gorgeous tone and keen sense of texture, Kuhn doesn’t so much solo over Franzetti’s arrangements as mold them into slowly evolving soundscapes. In such capable hands, the extended slo-mo treatment – which might otherwise prove lethally boring – becomes paradoxically suspenseful. You can’t help but wonder what, if anything, will happen next.
More than anything, however, Kuhn carries this album by the sheer beauty of his sound. Few other pianists, regardless of genre, can tease such an evocative range of timbres from their instrument. Kuhn’s lower register is as dark and rich as Belgian chocolate, and his upper register has the light, translucent quality of ice-cold champagne. It’s enough to leave you hungry for more.
Alexander Gelfand, Jazziz
Most jazz albums with strings don’t work because the plush textures that are supposed to add depth and dimension become static and disembodied, and the intended sweetness soon cloys. But Promises Kept is a sublime exception, a work of luminous realization and emotional impact and wholeness. Pianist Steve Kuhn leverages the strengths of strings in a jazz context (their direct appeal to the emotions, their scale and weight, their sensual allure) while avoiding the aforementioned pitfalls. …
Steve Kuhn, now in his fifth decade of recording, has made the album of his life.
Thomas Conrad, Jazztimes
Es ist nicht das erste Mal, das der Pianist und Komponist Steve Kuhn mit einem Streicherensemble arbeitet. Doch dieses Album bezeichnet er als „Verwirklichung eines Lebenstraums“. Neue sowie bereits anderswo eingespielte Stücke ließ er von dem Arrangeur Carlos Francetti orchestrieren, dessen große Erfahrung mit Film-Soundtracks dazu beiträgt, beim Hörer Bilder zu evozieren. Seine romantisch-impressionistischen Streicherklänge sind nie bloß Hintergrund für Klavierimprovisationen Kuhns, sondern fügen sich in den Struktur gebenden Rahmen der Kompositionen ein. … Musik, die zum Träumen einlädt – ganz ohne Kitschverdacht.
Berthold Klostermann, Fono Forum
Kuhn ist ein lyrischer Komponist mit einem Hang zur Romantik, dem es aber gelingt, die offenkundigen Kitschfallen zu umgehen. Er schreibt Stücke, die in unerwartete Klangorte entführen. Aber so unvorhersehbar sie auch sein mögen, seine Melodien sind so reichhaltig an vertraut klingenden Farben, dass man sich automatisch in seiner Musik zu Hause fühlt. ... Das ganze Album ist mit den verschiedensten Schichten belegt, die bei jedem erneuten hören immer neue Nuancen offen legen. Das Ergebnis dieser Kooperation ist schlicht ergreifend schön: eine perfekt ausbalancierte Synthese, in der Streicher, der Bass von Kuhns langjährigem musikalischen Partner David Finck und das Klavierspiel des Komponisten ein schlüssiges Ganzes ergeben.
Tom Fuchs, Piano News
Steve Kuhn describes “Promises Kept”, a programme of original compositions in which his piano is flanked by a string ensemble, as the realization of “a life’s dream”. In the liner notes, critic Bob Blumenthal observes that “Kuhn, a pianist who has displayed many and diverse strengths in a career now in its fifth decade, has reached a point where melody and feeling have taken centre stage…In giving full reign to his emotions, Kuhn has created both his most personal and his most beautiful recording.”

Steve Kuhn with Strings… Kuhn’s lyrical improvisations and the bold contours of his melodies - some old, some new – are set against nuanced string arrangements, by Kuhn and by Carlos Franzetti, who is also the orchestrator on “Promises Kept”. The album is both a ‘departure’ from Kuhn’s work of recent years and an extension of projects begun at least 40 years ago.

One of Steve Kuhn’s best-loved pieces carries the autobiographical title “Life’s Backward Glance”. It is reprised here, along with other favourites - “Trance”, “Oceans In The Sky”, “Lullaby”. And there is an autobiographical flavour to the album as a whole: “Promises Kept” tells us something of who Kuhn is, and how he got this way. Dedicated to the memory of his parents, Hungarian immigrants from Budapest, the project hovers between American and European atmospheres, between jazz and romanticism, between improvised flights and a strong sense of form, and the music expresses both yearning and nostalgia.

Though Hungarian echoes are evoked in the music, New York connections are stronger. When the Brooklyn-born Kuhn returned to New York from Boston in 1960 he plotted his jazz career from a rented room on Broadway, an address that has more than incidental meaning in “Promises Kept” and not only because of Carlos Franzetti’s involvement in soundtrack work, or bassist David Finck’s experiences in musical theatre. A “filmic” undertone is palpable throughout, and while listening it is easy to imagine cameras panning the Manhattan skyline.

At the same time, “Promises Kept” has more experimental roots in a period when jazz and classical music were looking longingly at each other. In the late 1950s Kuhn attended the famed Lenox School of Jazz where fellow students included Ornette Coleman, Don Cherry and vibist/composer Gary McFarland. Modern Jazz Quartet founder John Lewis and “Third Stream” initiator Gunther Schuller were amongst the teachers, and the idea of a new form, somewhere between jazz improvisation and ‘classical’ structural rigour, was very much in the air. In 1966, Kuhn and McFarland reconvened to make one of the enduringly important between-the-genres statements, “The October Suite”, for Impulse, a recording now regarded as a landmark by cognoscenti. Kuhn had always yearned to return to its chamber music colours and sensibility. But if Kuhn is revisiting his musical past, it is with heightened knowledge. As Blumenthal points out, “there are distinct differences between ‘The October Suite’, where Kuhn and trio improvised within the chamber-music environments that McFarland generated, and the present collection, where Kuhn’s own compositions provide the frames for each performance. The focus has shifted here to a body of work that is rare in its lyricism and originality. Kuhn has long had a capacity for creating indelible melodic notions and developing them with a sure sense of drama and unpredictable logic. His compositions rarely unfold with symmetrical regularity; like streams seeking their own course, they twist and surge, gaining emotional power in their turns from quiet reflection to bold passion”. (This mercurial unpredictability has been a factor linking Kuhn, as a soloist, to Charlie Parker. The influence is still obvious, and the specific territory staked out by “Promises Kept” can also be easily related to the Bird-with-Strings projects that Parker initiated in 1951, early instances of jazz music striving to liberate itself from the limits of the form.)

While planning “Promises Kept”, Kuhn, casting around for an orchestrator/arranger, was frequently recommended to seek out Carlos Franzetti. Bob Bluementhal: “It turned out that Franzetti, a pianist himself, was also a Kuhn fan of longstanding who not only knew the latter’s work, but could also sing lyrics to songs that Kuhn had written 30 years ago from memory. With Kuhn providing a general directive to ‘make it beautiful but not background music, be spare and heartrending,’ Franzetti fashioned arrangements that allowed piano and ensemble to blend seamlessly while constantly serving the melodic material at hand. One can sense Franzetti’s affinity for this music in the introductory passages he has crafted for several tracks, and in the grace with which each arrangement unfolds.”