KIRK KNUFFKE — Brightness : Live in Amsterdam (review)

KIRK KNUFFKE — Brightness : Live in Amsterdam album cover Live album · 2020 · Eclectic Fusion Buy this album from MMA partners
4/5 ·
Kirk Knuffke, a cornetist based in New York since 2005, is one of this generation's leading artists on his instrument. He's played with William Parker, Roswell Rudd, John Zorn, Dave Douglas, Myra Melford and Jon Irabagon among many others, and has built a strong reputation as an inventive and skilled side-artist.

He started recording as a leader in 2008, he moved from freer avant-garde jazz to various forms of free-bop, finding there his own easily recognizable sound. It came almost as a surprise to realize that after twelve years and a series of his own albums, "Brightness.." is Knuffke's first ever released live album (European "Chew Your Food" live album from 2010 is more a collective Knuffke-Ellis-Wollesen trio work).

Following Knuffke music for some years, it always attracted me for being unpredictable. Having his own signature sound, Knuffke never plays the same things twice. All of his albums are recorded with different line-ups and/or different, sometimes quite unorthodox, concepts (a great example is his "Witness" from 2018 - cornet/clarinet/piano trio in support of operatic baritone Steven Herring singing standards, some arias and a few Knuffke originals).

For those new to Knuffke's music, the best parallel is Eric Dolphy's transitional period works, except Dolphy did a great step from bop to free, Knuffke five decades after moves in the opposite direction.

On "Brightness", bare-naked cornet-bass-drums trio plays in soft and warm atmosphere of Amsterdam's most legendary jazz club - Bimhuis. In fact, current Knuffke's trio with drummer Bill Goodwin and bassist Mark Helias is half of 2015's Knuffke sextet, responsible for the release of the notable "Arms And Hands" album.

Seven compositions, all tuneful (similar to a modern standards of sort) are played with a lot of inspiration and grace, still with a strong feel for early bop. Vibrato-less clear sound of cornet draws moody melodies with relaxed beauty, adding freer solos here and there and leaving enough space for deep physical bass soloing and swinging drums, and - probably for the first time ever - Kirk sings on "The Mob, The Crown, The Mass".

Returning back to the parallels with Dolphy's music, Knuffke in fact plays same free-bop as Dolphy did. Just if Dolphy started on ground moving to faster, freer more chaotic sound, Knuffke returns back bop-rooted avant-garde jazz back to its roots.

Simply and great - just can't stop listening to it again and again.

It's interesting, that just a few days ago Knuffke released his second album this same year, this time on the European SteepleChase label and in accordance with the label's reputation - a bit more conservative. Still, he again chooses a trio format - not really a traditional one, with Kenny Wollesen on drums and Bob Stewart on tuba. Kirk can't stop surprising his fans again.
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