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Kirk Knuffke: Arms & Hands

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Kirk Knuffke has played in all sorts of contexts, so a trio is nothing unusual for the cornetist. What makes Arms & Hands distinctive, though, is his choice of bandmates. Bassist Mark Helias comes from a more adventurous (and prolific) background (Anthony Braxton, Cecil Taylor) while drummer Bill Goodwin has been a straight-ahead player (a long relationship with Phil Woods, and time with Dexter Gordon and Bill Evans). Having worked with both in separate groups, Knuffke rightly believed that compatibility would exist between them, combining a solid rhythmic foundation and melodic/harmonic freedom. With guest appearances on nearly half of the 15 tracks by Brian Drye (trombone), Daniel Carter (alto saxophone) or Jeff Lederer (soprano and tenor saxophone), the album proves Knuffke right in a series of brief but complete originals and one off-the-board interpretation.

Goodwin sounds just as adept at coloring a tone poem (“Umbrella”) and moving completely outward (“Tuesday”) as he does at setting down a groove (“Safety Shoes,” with its funky trumpet-trombone vamp). Likewise, Helias can play inside with ease, even stopping to quickly slap some bass in “Pepper,” one of several tracks inspired by other musicians, in this case the late saxophonist Jim Pepper. “Bright Light” was written for Carter and, before the saxophonist appears, Knuffke squirts some long tones, effectively imitating the alto horn. The album closes with “Thanks a Lot,” a song originally performed by country singer Ernest Tubb. Knuffke’s version, with Lederer’s tenor on the frontline, is marked by respect and a sense of fun. It makes a good closing statement to the extensive set of moods that precede it.

Originally Published