Solal and Kuhn Take Flight in Paris


DUO IN PARIS / DAVIS: Solar. KUHN-SOLAL: Journey Around the World. Musica 2000 / Martial Solal, Joachim Kuhn, pianists / Dreyfus Jazz 3460503650329 (live: Paris, 1975)

Originally issued on LP as Musica 3002, this is one of those recordings that you feel lucky exists in spite of poor sonics. Evidently recorded with inexpensive portable equipment, the duo-piano performances on this CD have a somewhat metallic quality and limited piano resonance,. but the playing is on a phenomenal level of both virtuosity and invention. Both Solal and Kuhn take turns spinning their piano duo out into musical orbit, creating swirling figures that somehow still make sense even when it seems that one of them is evidently pulling the other along. The fact that they were given plenty of time to stretch out on these three tunes, and two of them appear to have been spontaneously created out of a few traded licks does not detract from the sheer invention of it all.

In fact, I would defy any classical pianist or pianists to create anything remotely like this. The music is essentially grounded in tonality (Solal, of course, was a classically trained pianist brought up on the classics), yet their imaginations allow them to embellish and expand on any basic theme or motif in such a way that would be the envy of many a formal composer today. In Journey Around the World, for instance, listen to the way they take a few melodic cells and by 2:45 begin spinning them into quasi-baroque fantasies. What’s interesting about this music is the way the two of them together manage to sound, occasionally, like Art Tatum playing all by himself. This is, of course, a great compliment to Tatum, but it’s also a key to the kind of music-making these two fine artists were able to accomplish in this relatively brief (41 minute) session.

LP cover

Original Musica LP cover

Only occasionally do they get bogged down in what I’d refer to as “spinning,” i.e. playing rotating figures around a basic chord or motif and thus staying static, and even in those moments there is tremendous mutual stimulation going on. Of course I have no idea who is playing what; theses are duets, and at no point did I hear just one piano going at a time. Moreover, both Solal and Kuhn were “two peas in a pod” when it came to style and invention; I’m sure they could have gone on for another hour and continued stimulating each other.

Not only in the spontaneously created pieces, but also in Miles Davis’ Solar, Kuhn and Solal manage to create an abstract universe of sound. At several points their playing almost sounds like an exploding starburst firecracker, with showers of notes flying through the air, yet at no point is the music incoherent. Oddly enough, I felt there was a similarity here to the piano music of Kaikhosru Sorabji, equally ornate and fantastic in nature.

The only question one has is whether or not these two artists pre-planned either of the spontaneous pieces. Certainly, there seems to be more structure and coherence here than in other, similar encounters, such as that between Friedrich Gulda and Chick Corea.

This is a wholly remarkable set and one you need to hear regardless of your jazz proclivities!

—© 2017 Lynn René Bayley

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