Daily Archives: July 7, 2008

All Music Guide review by Scott Yanow

Kirk Knuffke Quartet – Big Wig (CF 107)
Kirk Knuffke is a very creative trumpeter. Since moving to New York from Coloardo in 2005, he has played avant-garde jazz (including with Butch Morris) and pop music in addition to working with Ideal Bread, a group dedicated to the music of Steve Lacy. Knuffke’s recording debut as a leader ranges from free improvisations to free bop with a healthy dose of interplay between the trumpeter, trombonist Brian Drye, bassist Reuben Radding and drummer Jeff Davis. The playing is explorative and advanced yet concise, and the music fits such songtitles as “Enough,” “Normal” (which is almost a blues) and “Repeat.” Each of the musicians is clearly familiar with earlier jazz styles yet is uninhibited and open enough to improvise fairly freely within the confines of Knuffke’s originals. No musician overwhelms the ensembles and the results are colorful, witty, unpredictable, inventive and swinging in their own fashion.

All About Jazz review by Troy Collins

Kirk Knuffke Quartet – Big Wig (CF 107)
Since moving to New York in 2005 from his native Colorado, the young trumpet player Kirk Knuffke has performed with composer Butch Morris, singer-songwriter Josh Ritter and Downtown drummers Kenny Wollesen and Jeff Davis, among others. Knuffke initially sought out bassist Reuben Radding and drummer Jeff Davis as trio-mates, but a chance encounter with trombonist Brian Drye yielded a quartet.

As members of a new generation of Downtown musicians, these four share a conceptual outlook towards jazz improvisation that finds no contradiction between inside and outside playing. The result is sinuous free bop with deep roots in Pre-War swing as well as Post-War innovations. Big Wig is Knuffke’s debut album.

The record features a dozen tunes in just over an hour (short by jazz standards) yet the quartet packs an abundance of inspired ideas and stellar interplay into each selection. There is an appealing, roughshod feel to the album which provides stark contrast to many over-polished post bop sessions. As a former student of Ornette Coleman and an admirer of Steve Lacy (he’s a member of Ideal Bread, a Lacy repertory band), Knuffke’s inside-outside concepts exude an unfussy, yet tuneful sensibility. His writing encompasses hearty in-the-pocket swing, turbulent collective improvisation and spacey, aleatoric interludes with equal conviction.

The rhythm section is top notch; Radding and Davis are two of the finest players of their generation. Their interaction is punchy and aggressive, yet fluid and dynamically varied. They veer from abstract, ramshackle rhythms peppered with metric modulation and stop-time tempos to sly understated swing with effortless grace. Drye makes an ideal front line foil for Knuffke; together they uncoil brassy unison cadences that blend catchy melodies with pungent growls and smears—drawing a conceptual line from Cootie Williams to Lester Bowie.

While the tunes share a similarity in tone and execution, they offer compelling dialogs and brisk solos that never overstay their welcome. Swaggering with hard-bop muscle and free jazz expressionism, Big Wig is a smart and engaging debut record.

Bagatellen review by Clifford Allen

Kirk Knuffke Quartet – Bigwig (CF 107)
Unassumingly ambitious is one way to characterize the debut disc on Clean Feed of trumpeter Kirk Knuffke’s quartet. Knuffke is a relative newcomer to New York, who has worked in the ensembles of Butch Morris and drummer Kenny Wolleson in addition to his own small groups. For his first leader date Knuffke’s joined by bassist Reuben Radding, drummer Jeff Davis and trombonist Brian Drye on twelve originals. The leader hails from Denver, Colorado and cut his teeth in bands around the state in recent years, while also studying with contemporary hardbop players like Ron Miles and Hugh Ragin. The music is deft freebop deployed with strength and facility, and for a pianoless quartet the instrumentation is rather unique.

There’s a poised fleetness to Knuffke’s lines that gives away expert music school training, and that’s not a slight – one need only to listen to players like Warren Gale or Kelly Rossum to know that what one does with “technique” in service of the music is key. Knuffke employs a range of the history of his instrument – hardboppers like Freddie, Lee and Woody as well as the scree of Don Ayler, not to mention a significant amount of steely heft. Though his assembly of phrases is very clean, his bravura is unequivocally democratic, always in support of Drye’s fat purrs and the tenuous push-pull of Radding and Davis.

The title track has a little bit of Rudd’s “Yankee No-How” in the head, dense singsong flurries in stop-time that open up into chortles and whinnies, a conversation of insects and horses atop glinting percussion and pliant thrum. It doesn’t hurt that Drye has that slushy tailgate down pat, brothel-ready in the closing “Truck” as well as throughout. Those bouncy heads are something that draws a line back several decades toward something not taught in the average music school – thematic material derived from Shepp, Rudd, Lacy and their kin. There’s actually a swinging of poles between tendencies of “New Thing” classicists and an opening up of those tendencies toward sonic exploration. But exploring space without tempo seems like a tool here rather than an ineffable outgrowth of the structure, a deliberate contrast to the lickety-split engine that keeps trying to rear in “Enough,” for example. Eventually, though, Knuffke will find a way to balance his ideas, and for that it’s worth keeping a finger on his player’s pulse.