Tim Kuhl – King (2009)

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by S. Victor Aaron

Baltimore native Tim Kuhl has been a drummer all his life and since 2003, has plied his trade in the rough and tumble NYC music scene. But Kuhl has not only survived, he seems to revel in it. In addition to heading up his own jazz ensemble, Kuhl has split his time playing in bands that range from rock to avant garde to experimental industrial. With a steady residency fronting his group at a club in the East Village for four years, now, Kuhl has achieved a measure of stability in the Big Apple that many musicians there aspire for, but few enjoy. He’s also gotten to enjoy playing with many of the scene’s stars or rising stars, such as Josh Roseman, Alan Ferber, Brad Shepik, Jack Broad, Tim Collins and Moppa Elliot.

Not satisfied with being just a drummer able to handle diverse styles, Kuhl has recently set about establishing himself as a composer, too. In 2008, Kuhl put out his first disc, Ghost, which received much critical acclaim. For example, Bill Barnes of Jazz.com commented that the music contained within “is a calming sojourn to the cerebral era of free jazz, when contemplation, dissonance and space were not considered dirty words.” Walter Kolosky, also from Jazz.com, added “…In addition to being a good drummer – what other way could I put it? – Kuhl is an exceptional composer… in the end I walk away with a story in my mind told to me in a way only a really talented composer could.”

Now just a year later last March 29, Tim Kuhl has supplemented Ghost with King. As he did for Ghost, Kuhl employs the help of five others to make this record, but only guitarist Nir Felder and trombonist Rick Parker are held over. Aiden Carroll handles bass duties, Ryan Mackstaller serves as an extra guitarist (instead of a keyboardist used on the prior album) and the highly touted Jon Irabagon mans the tenor sax.

This somewhat unconventional setup hints as to what the music they play is like. The two electric guitars suggests rock but a sax and trombone speaks of bop. Tim Kuhl’s hard-to-classify music draws resourcefully from both realms in this assemblage of nine all-originals (three of them interludes). Guitar feed heralds the entrance of the title cut, but soon makes way for the sax/trombone front line framing a sophisticated theme. Irabagon’s expressive solo is bracketed by two guitar leads each by Mackstaller and Nir respectively that contrast by their straight-ahead rock approaches.

From there, it only gets better. “The Defender Of Time” has a blues-based melodic development that’s advanced but very accessible. Parker and Irabagon easily find the right solo expressions to fit it. “Phantasm” follows as another well conceived composition, this time bolstered by Mackstaller’s guitar and Kuhl’s tastefully accentuating kit work. “The Opposition” is the most ambitious track, commencing with a snaky bop line, followed by Kuhl’s thunderous drum solo. Irabagon’s solo starts tonal before going all-out avant garde by the end of it, and Felder’s solo adopts a similar tactic before everyone returns to the head.

The slower, contemplative “Kiss Of Death” provides space for Carroll to offer up some thoughtful musings on acoustic bass, and “Stars” skillfully straddles the line between advanced bop and avant garde; Parker’s trombone improvisations highlights the set’s closer.

King is one of those records that really sinks in over repeated listens. I’ve come to realize it’s because the composition style of Tim Kuhl is such that its subtleties reveal themselves gradually. That puts him a breed apart from most young songwriters, and one suspects he’s just getting warmed up. His open embrace of such varying music styles has paid off in inspiring him to craft a record that blurs the lines between these styles well and give listeners who are also open-minded about their music something to feast over.

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron

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