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Whit Dickey/Kirk Knuffke: Fierce Silence

Mark Corroto By

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The fitness instructor kept yelling, "feel the burn, feel the burn." After an hour of aerobic exercise, that was not a difficult task. A much easier and painless way to experience the same fire is to listen to just one track of Fierce Silence, a collection of improvised duos between drummer Whit Dickey and cornetist Kirk Knuffke.

The ten tracks never venture into the anaerobic, instead they smolder in a slow and deliberate manner. This choice of tempo by Dickey and Knuffke accentuates both their interplay and voices. Both players are mainstays of modern jazz, if not central figures. Dickey might be best known for his work in ensembles led by David S. Ware, Matthew Shipp, and, more recently, Ivo Perelman, all commanding voices. Likewise, Knuffke's cornet can be heard in Jeff Lederer's Brooklyn Blowhards and Swing n' Dix, Matt Wilson's Quartet, Ideal Bread, and Allison Miller's BoomTic Boom (to name just a few). Neither player ever monopolizes another leader's outing, yet their presence elevates a concert or recording. Even Dickey's duos with Perelman, Tenorhood (Leo Records, 2015) maintains the focus on the saxophonist's vision.

With Fierce Silence, both players corroborate and sustain the music. "The Calling" opens the affair with one long cornet note and percolating drums. Knuffke has a knack for playing the outer edges of notes, focusing on the softer side of extended technique. Likewise, Dickey is busy here, but the slower tempos bring out more flavor in his playing. The music is mostly ballads. "Step Back," a hesitant blues, has the feel of two gentlemen holding the door for each other saying, "after you," "no, after you." On "Quarry," he blows what sounds like a call to the hunt, before dusting rattling notes over the pliable brush work of Dickey. The drummer can say more, much more, with less. His lead on the title track, cloaked in pregnant pauses, is actually quite the fecund sound.

Knuffke has made a solid reputation recording duets with musicians such as Karl Berger, Brian Drye, Michael Bisio, Jesse Stacken, and Mike Pride. This might be the best of the lot.

Track Listing: The Calling; Fierce Silence; Step Back; Stalker; Lodestar; Quarry; Bone; Legba’s Dance; Leave It To The Wind; Ashes.

Personnel: Whit Dickey/: drums; Kirk Knuffke: cornet.

Title: Fierce Silence | Year Released: 2016 | Record Label: Clean Feed Records

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