Kirk Knuffke - Cherryco

Label: SteepleChase Records, 2017

Lineup – Kirk Knuffke: cornet; Jay Anderson: bass; Adam Nussbaum: drums.

// this review was originally published on LondonJazz News on Jun 12 //

"Cherry-co" was the title of a tune by Don Cherry, which first appeared on the 1966 album The Avant Garde, a revolutionary piece of work jointly authored by Cherry and John Coltrane. The title, was in part a punning reference to the jazz standard "Cherokee", in part a conflation of Cherry and Co(ltrane). 

Kirk Knuffke, the virtuosic NYC-based cornetist, has a new album CherryCo consisting of tunes by Cherry and Ornette Coleman - seven by Cherry and five by Coleman, and is in the company of two experienced master craftsmen of rhythm, bassist Jay Anderson and drummer Adam Nussbaum, working with both of them for the first time.

With a strong musical sensibility, both melodic and rhythmic, the trio plunges deep into the progressive universe of these composers, taking the opportunity to innovate as well while re-shaping the tunes with a tweak of their own. With a full-bodied acoustic sound and an infallible understanding of one another’s movements, the band begins this journey to the past with the reggae-ish "Roland Alphonso" by Cherry, who composed it for the Jamaican tenorist referred to in the title. After blowing the theme’s deep-seated melody with crisp delicacy, Knuffke embarks on a trippy improvisation that will keep you engaged and enthralled, at the same time that stimulates his peers to push forward. After Anderson’s loping bass solo and the reinstatement of the theme, the final vamp briefly allows Nussbaum to intensify his unostentatious brushed attacks. 

Coleman’s shape-shifting "The Sphinx" is obstinate and animated in equal measure. The drummer's  percussive intro has the feel of a march throughout, preparing the ground for the brisk melody that erupts from Knuffke’s cornet. Well accompanied by Anderson’s playful game, he engages in a funk rock backbeat when the time to improvise arrives, but just until they decide to make another adjustment toward a hasty swinging flow. When Knuffke regains the spotlight again, Nussbaum throws in lots of cymbal and snare drum whisks. 

In the same vivid spirit, Cherry’s "Paris Ambulance Song" stands out through gracious coordination. By the end, we have Knuffke and Anderson trading fours with the drummer - which they also do on Coleman’s "Jayne", but this time expanding it into eight bars. This last tune, delivered with strong Latin accents, swings aplomb, propelled by a rhythm section that moves constantly in the pocket. 

Mood variations are constant throughout the recording. If "Art Deco" feels like a gentle jazz standard and grooves along with sweet-sounding solos, "Remembrance", a blues-based piece packed with Latin touches, funk, and swing, gains a stimulating African pulse whenever Nussbaum operates with mallets. In contrast, "Golden Heart" displays bouncing unisons uttered by cornet and bass on top of a fluid rhythm, carrying an inherent Arabic feel attached. 

The session ends with the title track, which is made of three different layers juxtaposed with as much elegance as freedom. The cornetist pours out multiple creative ideas taken from the freebop compendium and beyond, and the tune gradually decelerates toward the finale. 

Cherryco, a collection of classic jazz tunes given a passionate and tasteful contemporary treatment, is a treat for the ears.

        Grade  A-

        Grade A-

Favorite Tracks: 
01 – Roland Alphonso ► 04 – Rememberance ► 07 – Jayne

Michael Bisio & Kirk Knuffke - Row For William O.

Michael Bisio: acoustic bass; Kirk Knuffke: trumpet.


Bassist Michael Bisio and trumpeter Kirk Knuffke, two relevant contributors in the improvised jazz panorama, got together at Park West Studios in Brooklyn to shape the six tunes that would be included in Row For William O.
Bisio dedicates this album to William O. Smith (better known as Bill Smith), a clarinetist, composer, and educator who occasionally recorded with Dave Brubeck and had a hand in Shelly Manne’s Concerto for Clarinet & Combo. 

The constructive duo opens with one of the honoree’s compositions entitled “Drago”, which exposes the theme’s melody in a gorgeous unison and is designed with absorbing grooves and stimulating swinging sections.
The title track gets a classical chamber feeling during its four-minute introductory section, in which we can appreciate the distinctive bowing bass of Bisio and fill our ears with the intuitive language of Knuffke. Throughout the subsequent section, the tune seems to veer into a ballad but the idea never took practical effect. At this phase, Bisio enjoys a great solo moment while Knuffke, showing an enviable control of the trumpet, explores different sounds.

Exaggerating in the title’s length but not in the focal daintiness of its intonations, Bisio’s “I Want To Do To You What Spring Does to Cherry Trees” is a more intimate journey gradually expands.
Resorting to a tight complicity and wistful abstraction, “December”, composed by the duo, often moves within complex textures created by Bisio's asynchronous plucking of strings. 

To Birds…”, the closing tune is the opposite, a question-and-answer ritual that stands at the crossroads of classical and chamber jazz.
But the most appealing track on this recording is Bisio’s “Oh See O.C.”, a wonderful model in the art of improvising. A persistent and unusual swinging bass groove finds existential purpose in the impulsive contortions of the trumpet phrases.

Bisio and Knuffke take advantage of their elevated technique to better complement each other. 
Although in need of some mood changes, Row For William O. provides us with contrasting pitches and timbres that assure a fun ride.

         Grade  B+

         Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
01 – Drago ► 02 – Row For William O. ► 05 – Oh See O.C.