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Kirk Knuffke & Jesse Stacken: Orange Was the Color

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When assembling a tribute to Charles Mingus with just cornet and piano, Kirk Knuffke and Jesse Stacken, respectively, considered their limitations. This session contains no prayer meetings, hits in the soul, fight songs or any Mingus piece that depends on the thrust of the ensemble. Instead the duo considered pieces that showed off Mingus’ writing prowess as opposed to his strong personality and bandleading skills. In doing so, they shined up several works that often get overlooked.

Three come from the lesser-known albums Mingus recorded for Bethlehem Records, a fruitful time between Tijuana Moods (also used here) and the landmark Mingus Ah Um. “East Coasting” and “Celia,” with its regular tempo shifts, adapt well to this setting. Stacken plays some staccato comps, which keeps the bop in “Slippers” and builds out the bluesy vamp of “Moanin'” (not the Bobby Timmons classic). Knuffke’s use of cornet rather than trumpet works well throughout, giving a slightly darker tone to the music. “So Long Eric,” originally something of an Ellingtonian blues line, benefits from the horn’s tone and sounds especially strong in the duo’s hands.

Although they lean heavily on deep cuts, Knuffke and Stacken can’t resist “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat.” It gets a slow and dramatic reading with heavy emphasis on the unique chord patterns that usually play second fiddle to the Prez homage of the song. While the album could’ve used a tad more Mingus drama, the lyrical bends (like the toy piano on “Duke Ellington’s Sound of Love”) make this a set that rises above the heap of albums paying tribute to jazz godfathers.

Originally Published