Joachim Kuhn is an East German born classically trained pianist who moved to the West in the mid 60s and became one of the key figures in German (and European) avant-garde piano. Together with his brother, clarinetist Rolf, he played at the legendary Newport Jazz Festival where Coltrane and Shepp's "The New Thing" was recorded. Later he moved to Paris where he actively participated in the European avant-garde jazz scene.
After some years of living in the States and playing mostly fusion, he returned to Germany in the late 00's and founded a world fusion trio with Moroccan vocalist and guembri player Majid Bekkas and Spanish percussionist Ramon Lopez (often known as the Chalaba Trio). Combining North African rhythms and vocals with free-jazz and European classic traditions, this Kuhn led trio represented some of the best European world fusion of the time. The Trio's debut, "Out Of The Desert", was recorded in Morocco with participating local rhythm and string musicians. The second album, "Chalaba", was recorded in Germany by the trio themselves. "Voodoo Sense" is the trio's third studio album, recorded with guests again (in Morocco and France).
The most intriguing feature of this album is the participation of Archie Shepp. A few years ago Kuhn released a duo album with Shepp containing avant-garde jazz and some classical influences (as typical of almost every Kuhn album, it is interesting but not really consistent, containing some great pieces and some fillers as well).
On "Voodoo Sense" we can hear the Kuhn Trio's North African rhythms and sounds driven by a big team of guest musicians who are North African. At the same time, this album contains a larger than before dose of free jazz and European classical tendencies. Fortunately, all these influences are not deeply mixed but co-exist in some fragile but successful balance.
The album's opener, "Kulu Se Mama", is a John Coltrane classic, played here as a North African meditative song and ecstatic ritual hymn at the same time. Almost twenty minutes long, it has a complex structure and in fact represents a mini suite in which Archie Shepp takes the place of Pharoah Sanders' sax soloing function in the original version. Seriously spiced with authentic Arabic/Bedouin percussion, this composition is enough reason to own the whole album.
After such a start it's not easy to continue at the same level, Kuhn and his colleagues are only partially successful. "Gbalele" is a traditional North African rhythm based song, slightly spiced with Kuhn's almost classical piano, but not all that memorable. "L'eternal Voyage" is bluesy hard bop, obviously a number for Shepp. Its as good as almost any of his songs of such kind, but it sounds quite out of place here. "Voodoo Sense" returns the listener to the dry and nervous desert with Shepp's flying solos over hypnotic Magreb rhythms and vocals, its another great song.
Right after this Kuhn turns to European classical playing meditative, almost dreamy chamber piano compositions with just the two other trio members (no traces of African rhythms here). "Firehouse", the closing composition, is full of energy, dissonant piano, heavy rhythms - it is similar to Kuhn's works from his early years (no African influences at all again).
A very eclectic album with some really strong points, a bit unusual structure and at the end of the day - a really interesting one.