In my experience, discovering a great jazz act is one of the greatest joys a music nerd can feel. It doesn’t even have to be straight-up jazz – as if anyone could define exactly what that is. Sometimes a band that explicitly incorporates jazz into its creations feels like the find of the decade, and I’ve had this feeling several times throughout the years. Kuhn Fu is one such band, although they break every rule and challenge every boundary. Or maybe that’s precisely why they’re so intriguing and so hard to ignore.
Founded by German guitarist Christian Kuhn and based in The Netherlands, Kuhn Fu is an atypical quartet of jazzmen, eschewing the usual affectations of the genre crowd for an approach that can be characterized only as simultaneously more laid back and more aggressive. Their music is jazz with a snarl, jazz with a mean streak, or maybe it’s rock with an especially groovy and unpredictable edge. All I know is their latest album, “Kuhnstantinopolis” is simply remarkable.
RELEASE DATE: 28 June 2015 LABEL: Cantina Records
RECOMMENDED TRACK: Mephisto
One does not simply `play` a Kuhn Fu tune. Most of this album is just begging to be blasted through the biggest, meanest, most inconsiderate speakers you’ve got. Headphones absolutely will not do, this is music with a chip on its shoulder and it doesn’t take prisoners! Neighbors? Let them join in or let them flee! Sleeping pets? They can sleep later! Friends in the mood for chatting? They better speak via interpretive dance, if they must, because Kuhn Fu will not have any of your nonsense – dance or be danced upon! That is truly a rare and wondrous attitude to have in the jazz world of today, and I think this band deserves a lot more exposure for it, especially as this isn’t just some vacuous `attitude` thing – it’s a very well-constructed aesthetic, and everyone involved knows exactly what they’re doing.
Let’s start with Mr. Kuhn himself. What I love most about his style is that he’s got no interest in being the guitar hero. It’s about the fun of control rather than the extreme shredding skill or the face-melting compositional somersaults. With his precise playing, his simple and effective riffs and his wonderful control of tone, he’s kind of the engineer of this outfit – a level-headed, no-nonsense, rocking guitarist, a sort of Bruce “The Boss” Springsteen of the band. By his side, the fantastic double-bass sorcery provided by Esat Ekincioglu – muscular, determined, intelligent and refreshingly loud. Together, they lay the foundation upon which the other half of the band does their best to disregard gravity, the laws of physics and sometimes even common sense. I’m referring especially to Ziv Taubenfeld, wielder of the mighty bass clarinet which provides the perfect opposition to Kuhn’s restrained guitar, both through the warm, slightly ethnic tone, and through the unpredictable approach to playing. The whimsical bio on Kuhn Fu’s website says that “he likes free jazz”. Truly, this is the understatement to end all understatements. Finally rounding the group up, Lav Kovac is doing his best (and succeeding) to be the least amount of drummer possible, and the most amount of multi-limbed creative whirlwind kicking the ass of a poor unfortunate drum kit that just wanted to feed its family and have a normal life. Together, they are The Avengers of jazz… rock… psychedelic music… you name it: sometimes coming across as slightly confused, sometimes confusing, a bit annoying but blessed with a compensating endearing quality, unpredictable, strong, exhausting and exhilarating. Good stuff!
I’ve elected to talk more about the band and the album as whole, since these songs will definitely metamorphosize into new and strange forms with every performance, and I figure it’s pretty useless to describe someone based on their skeleton rather than their features, so why would writing about songs with so much personality be any different? Suffice to say that Kuhnstantinopolis is a very eclectic album, zipping from quasi-punk head-banging to bluesy melancholy, to stoneresque robot-rock and everything in between, bound together with subtle humor, tantalizing melody and rusty wires and presented as a juggernaut of creativity and playfulness. Often times, listening to it feels like play-wrestling with a perfectly tame bear – fuzzy, exciting, pleasant and insanely dangerous all at once. With Kuhn Fu, I think enjoyment is a choice, but I definitely recommend making it.