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Kirk Knuffke: Gravity without Airs


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Kirk Knuffke: Gravity without Airs
The first evidence of cornetist Kirk Knuffke's hook up with Michael Bisio surfaced on the bassist's alluring Accortet (Relative Pitch, 2015), presaging a continuing string of further collaborations. So perhaps it was inevitable that another Bisio mainstay, pianist Matthew Shipp, would enter into the mix at some point. The surprise is that it is on a date under Knuffke's leadership, which has produced the double album Gravity Without Airs, with six cuts credited to the cornetist, while the other eight are group confections.

But the formula stays the same no matter what the authorship. Having enlisted two master improvisers, Knuffke wisely gives them free rein to do what they do best. Consequently it is the interaction between them which is paramount. Knuffke's lyricism -he is tuneful even when there is no tune—remains uncompromised, perfectly balanced by Bisio and Shipp's often oblique contributions. And when there is a tune, the result can be killing, as Knuffke layers some beautiful melodies over sensitive but not reverential backing.

Of course Knuffke does a lot more than just make sweet music. He wrings the emotion from his lines often with a hint of melancholy, as slight blues inflections color even the freest moments. He further shades his storytelling with subtle control of timbre, whether squeezing out an expressive whinnying upper register or venturing into the realm of swooshing noise. Bisio often provides the most direct counterpoint, both responsive to the leader's direction, but at the same time mediating Shipp's inspired digressions. An utterly distinctive presence, the pianist frequently reminds of his fondness for the bottom end, tempered by a sparkling romanticism and lurching rhythmic motifs, as well as the occasional dramatic switchback.

The title track, which opens proceedings, begins with a tremendous introduction from Bisio, all bent notes and woody resonance, before Knuffke's breathy languid torch song theme. As throughout, there are no unisons and no adherence to song form, but there are still connections aplenty, sometimes overt as when the leader picks up on Shipp's lovely sequence of descending chords, at other times more felt in terms of mood and pacing.

Cornet and piano duet on the stop start "Time Is Another River," with Shipp even offering a passing hint of ragtime as they attain velocity. Other notable episodes include the striking long tone interplay between Knuffke and Bisio's wavering bowing on "Paint Pale Silver," the elegiac ravishing "Between Today And May," and the blend of rousing fanfares and mournful lilt on "The Water Will Win." Not until the final "Today For Today" do they skirt convention, profitably so, as Shipp and Bisio pay close attention to the contours of Knuffke's wistful ballad.

With his accomplished amalgam of inside and outside elements, Knuffke has delivered one of the records of the year.

Track Listing

Gravity without Airs; Stars Go Up; Between Today and May; The Sun Is Always Shining; Birds of Passage; Time Is Another River; Paint Pale Silver; The Water Will Win; June Stretched; Blinds; Piece of Sky; Shadows to Dance; Heal the Roses; Today for Today.


Kirk Knuffke: cornet; Matthew Shipp: piano; Michael Bisio: bass, acoustic.

Album information

Title: Gravity without Airs | Year Released: 2022 | Record Label: Tao Forms

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