By Alexa Peters | Published February 2021
For her leader debut, Chicago trumpeter Emily Kuhn offers up a project of mostly originals, showcasing sonic combinations as varied as the horizon—and as promising as her talent. It suffers, though, from the inclusion of a few too many ideas.
Sky Stories features a pair of Kuhn’s collectives—Helios, her chamber-jazz ensemble, and a pared-down quartet—supporting the bandleader’s evocative vocals and melodies. Kuhn’s stated objective here was to celebrate Chicago’s diverse musical communities, and she deftly uses the broad palette of instrumentation to reach her goal. The album opens with the lush “Roses,” featuring Helios, which blossoms into a full-blown bossa nova. As the tune goes on, more colors—a saxophone solo, a string soli—add sublime innovation and intensity. That said, Sky Stories would benefit from moments of simplicity—a refinement of each composition and the project, overall. Kuhn’s take of “Body And Soul” begs for a bare treatment. And while her version is well-executed, complex string and horn lines muddy its allure. Listeners’ interest should be piqued by Kuhn’s skill and potential, but the album could benefit from some crisp, open air.
Sky Stories: Roses; Horizon; Queen For An Hour; Body And Soul; Fit; Catch Me; Beanstalk; Ponta De Areia; Anthem; Jet Trails And Shooting Stars. (62:22)
Personnel: Emily Kuhn, Joe Suihkonen (2, 5, 9), trumpet; Mercedes Inez Martinez, vocals; Max Bessesen, alto saxophone, tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone; Ben Cruz (1, 6), guitar; Evan Levine, Katie Ernst (2, 5, 9), bass; Myra Hinrichs, Lucia Thomas, Erendira Izguerra, violin; Christine Fliginger, viola; Danny Hoppe, cello; Gustavo Cortiñas, Nate Friedman (2, 5, 9), drums.