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Kuhn Fu VII — Jazz Is Expensive
(Bandcamp no#, 2022, DL)

Kuhn Fu VI — Live in Saalfelden
(Bandcamp no#, 2022, DL)

by Jon Davis, Published 2023-03-29

Jazz Is Expensive Cover artLive in Saalfelden Cover art

After years of existing as a quartet, Kuhn Fu nearly doubled for Tantalos, and now they present a double CD set called Jazz Is Expensive / Live in Saalfelden, with the two halves released as separate downloads. Starting with the live album, which was recorded at Jazzfestival Saalfelden on August 20, 2021, the group consists of six players. The core four are here — Christian Kuhn (guitar), Ziv Taubenfeld (bass clarinet), Esat Ekincioglu (bass), and George Hadow (drums, on board since Chain the Snake) — joined by Tobias Delius (clarinet, tenor sax) and John Dikeman (tenor sax). The set starts out with two great pieces of jazz rock, one of which is a tune from Kuhnstantinopolis (2015), then they launch into “Last Tango of Harry Sanchez,” a surrealistic spoken story about a perverted hamster. At one point, Kuhn pauses the story to say, “Guys, can you play some jazz behind me while I’m telling this story? Please, I hired you for improvisation.” And the musicians comply. That proves to be an intro to a piece called “Harry Sanchez,” another great slab of avant-jazz with great work from the woodwinds and crazy guitar from Kuhn. We then get a respite from the noise with the luxurious “Maharani,” originally from Kuhnspiracy (2017). “Dmitri” throws us back into the high-energy mode, utilizing the extra woodwinds to great effect. It’s six and a half minutes of the best kind of chaos, with the first half throwing the whole ensemble into a fast-paced workout and the second half featuring Taubenfeld (I think) on an intense solo with almost no backing. “Return of Hans Schmitz” is a slow-build anthem with lots of embellishment, almost like a power ballad interpreted by a New Orleans street band (except that it sounds nothing like New Orleans jazz). They finish off with a brief “Slacker’s Fanfare” which receives generous applause from the festival audience.

The surrealistic narration that appeared briefly during the concert turns out to be a hint at what was to come for Kuhn Fu. Jazz Is Expensive features a seven-piece group; Sofia Salvo (baritone sax) is added to the previous sextet. The bizarre story is billed as an update to the story “The Fisherman and His Wife,” famous as one of Grimm’s Fairy Tales. There’s something about a jazz French horn player named Marcel de Champignon, whose manager promises him great success and wishes granted by a talking fish named Bruno the Architect, but it’s all wrapped up in a crazy story that I don’t need to go into. Listeners will no doubt be reminded of Frank Zappa, for example the first side of Apostrophe’. Musically, they jump around stylistically, somehow managing to maintain a degree of cohesion. I honestly go back and forth on whether it’s all worthwhile. Certainly the instrumental passages are very good, and there are lots of great ideas, but the narration often interrupts my enjoyment. It’s a kind of absurdist cabaret, and without the visual element it’s sometimes just disorienting. The bottom line is that I would almost certainly enjoy Jazz Is Expensive as a live show, but the audio on its own is a mixed bag.

Filed under: New releases, 2022 releases

Related artist(s): Kuhn Fu

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