It’s been 20 years and 11 albums since Tightrope, guitarist Steve Kahn’s quite good fusion debut on Columbia / Tappan Zee Records. Since then, he’s moonlighted as a session man, handling gigs with the Brecker Brothers, Bob James, Steely Dan, Chuck Mangione and Ashford & Simpson. As a session ace, Kahn is an excellent assimilator with a tad too little personality (though that’s often part of the job on a session). But on his own, he’s worked successfully to refine his electric sound to elaborate the potential beauty of amplified guitar. When he succeeds, as he does on 1991’s excellent Let’s Call This (Bluemoon), he interacts with a sterling bassist (in this case, Ron Carter) and an expressive percussionist (Al Foster) to interpret well-chosen material. When it’s less successful, he’s a guitarist lost in John Scofield’s shadow, offering little more than the consistency of Jean-Michel Folon’s distinctive and symbolic cover paintings.
Got My Mental, though, is one of Khan’s winners. One can only hope it helps make this wonderful guitarist better known in the jazz world. He’s perfected his electric synthesis and has even got himself a nice set of pet licks which give him his own sound. He’s aided by sensitive bass technician John Patitucci and poly-rhythmic percussionist provocateur Jack DeJohnette. The program includes one terrific Kahn original (the title track, based on something Khan heard a talk-show guest say on TV), two standards and such extremely well chosen covers as: «R.P.D.D.» (from Ornette Coleman’s 1961 album Ornette ), Wayne Shorter’s «Paraphernalia» (from Miles Davis’s 1968 album Miles In the Sky ), «Common Mama» (from Keith Jarrett’s 1972 album Explorations ), «Sham Time» (from Eddie Harris’s 1967 album The Electrifying Eddie Harris ) and «Cunning Lee» (from Lee Morgan’s 1968 album Caramba! ).
Khan keeps it simple and his playing is masterful. Patitucci and DeJohnette, as you’d expect, fit snugly in the trio as well. But it’s really Khan’s show. By turns, he’s thoughtful yet fired up, deliberate yet cautious. He proceeds at his own pace, often to the benefit of a song’s mood. He’s a tremendous player and Got My Mental is an ideal showcase for his electric artistry on guitar. Well done and worth hearing.
Musicians: Steve Kahn, guitar; John Patitucci, bass; Jack DeJohnette, drums; Don Alia, timbales-1, shekere-2; Bobby Allenda, congas, guiro-3; Marc Quinones, timbales-4; Café, berimbau, percussion and voice-5.
Tracks: R.P.D.D.; Paraphernalia-2, 3, 4; Common Mama-1, 3; Got My Mental; The Last Dance; Sham Time-1, 3; I Have Dreamed5; Cunning Lee.