Mark McKnight: Do Or Die (2011)
Do Or Die, Irish guitarist Mark McKnight's second album, features an organ quartet rather than the more usual organ trio. The added musical depth comes courtesy of saxophonist Seamus Blake, who joins McKnight's trio on a set of tunes with a laid back, almost hypnotic, feel.
McKnight emphasizes melody and mood above speed and overt displays of technique, uses a rounded, pure tone with few effects, and plays single note runs with economy and precision. Organist Ross Stanleywho's also worked in the Steve Howe Trioand drummer James Maddren are both inventive and supportive rhythm players, with a tendency to create underpinning layers of sound: Stanley does so by focusing on chords rather than single note patterns; Maddren, by constantly working around every piece of his kit with a deft, light, touch. The result is a gentle, lyrical, style of music that may lack memorable hooks but is readily accessible and rather comforting.
The UK-born but New York-resident Blake is an excellent choice of saxophonist, his own full, warm sound fitting smoothly into the trio. Indeed, there are times, like the introduction to "Pieces," when differentiating between the sounds of Blake's tenor, McKnight's guitar and Stanley's organ is by no means a simple task.
Although McKnight's name is on the album cover he's an egalitarian leader and doesn't hog the limelight. Not that he's shy of taking a solo or two; his work on "Pieces" and "Nightcap" stands out for their combination of precision and flowing runs, while on Rodgers and Hart's "Bewitched" and his own "Contemplate" he picks each note thoughtfully and with economy. Stanley gets "Bewitched (Intro)" to himself, setting up the entry of McKnight's guitar on the tune itself with a slow-tempo, almost gospel-sounding organ solo. Blake and McKnight play in tight unison on much of the mid-tempo, gently funky "Tease," before Blake takes a strong, driving, solo on the second half of the tune. Both Blake and Maddren seem to relish the chance to open up a bit more than usual.
McKnight recorded his first solo album, Overnight (ReMark Records, 2009), in New York, but recorded Do Or Die at Castlesound Studios in Pencaitland, to the east of Edinburgh. That environment may have something to do with the spacious and relaxed feel of this album, or it may be more of a reflection of McKnight's increasing confidence as an artist. Either way, Do Or Die is a positive addition to his body of work.
Track Listing: Do or Die; Pieces; Nightcap; Bewitched (Intro); Bewitched; Tease; Contemplate; (We'll) Just Disappear.
Personnel: Mark McKnight: guitar; Seamus Blake: tenor saxophone; Ross Stanley: organ; James Maddren: drums.
Record Label: Whirlwind Recordings Ltd