Named after its unusual instrumentation, Accortet is the eponymous debut of a quartet led by renowned contrabassist Michael Bisio, featuring the unique frontline of accordion and cornet, played by Art Bailey and Kirk Knuffke, respectively, with Michael Wimberly manning the drums. An in-demand sideman among free jazz luminaries such as Joe McPhee, Ivo Perelman and Matthew Shipp, Bisio seldom issues albums as a bandleader these days, making this recording all the more intriguing for its inclusion of some surprisingly accessible material, starting with the joyous opener, "AM." The tune's sunny harmonies, buoyant bass lines and upbeat rhythms belie Bisio's reputation as an uncompromising avant-gardist, offering contrast to his usual work.
The remainder of the date follows suit, presenting Bisio's multifaceted artistry in a variety of settings. Most astonishing is the amusingly titled "I Want To Do To You What Spring Does To Cherry Trees," a sophisticated ballad that is anything but blue. Like a long forgotten standard, the tune follows oddly familiar chord changes; the reedy bellows of Bailey's accordion conjure a nostalgic air for Knuffke's wistful variations, their romantic Old World invocations ably supported by Bisio and Wimberly's responsive accompaniment. Further nods to the tradition can be heard in the impressionistic "Times That Bond," which borrows the iconic bass line from John Coltrane's "Acknowledgment" section of A Love Supreme.
The majority of the session explores more vanguard territory, although even such outré fare as "Sun Mystery Ra History," finds the group grounded. Knuffke's lyrical half-valve smears and Bailey's oscillating tones find harmonious concordance with Bisio's droning ostinatos and Wimberly's dramatic mallet work, integrating extended techniques with exotic modalities that expertly balance freedom and form. Whether navigating the glacially-paced contours of "Henry's Theme" or blazing through the quicksilver tempo changes of "Giant Chase," Bisio and company invest the proceedings with keen invention, using a bracing combination of adventurous textural gambits, dynamic group interplay and old-fashioned swing. A most unanticipated release, Accortet truly embodies what venerated jazz critic Whitney Balliett called "the sound of surprise."
AM; Henry's Theme; Giant Chase; Times That Bond; I Want To Do To You What Spring Does To Cherry Trees; Livin' Large; (A&D); Charles Too!; Sun Mystery Ra History; Livin' Large (C&B).
Kirk Knuffke: cornet; Art Bailey: accordion; Michael Bisio: bass; Michael Wimberly: drums.
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