15 Kirk KnuffkeGravity Without Airs
Kirk Knuffke Trio
TAO Forms 10 (aumfidelity.com/collections/tao-forms)

Concentrating on cornet and with only bass and keyboard backing, Kirk Knuffke attains not only graceful but hard-driving improvisations on this two-CD set. New Yorkers Knuffke, bassist Michael Bisio and pianist Matthew Shipp bridge the drumless gap by concentrating rhythmic power in the pianist’s pedal-point pressure, plus the bassist’s subtle core resonations. This gives the cornetist space to free flow techniques ranging from triplet slides heading to screech mode, descriptive grace notes or half-valve smears. Used judiciously, the motifs lock in with the rhythm section’s expression to create 14 tunes that don’t swing conventionally, but are presented with both dexterity and dynamics.

From the brassy portamento expositions, bass string pops and measured chording of the introductory Gravity Without Airs that is resolved with a potent groove, until the concluding Today for Today, where slurs and shakes blow and bounce the program to a unified and unique ending, three-part textural control is always evident. Staccato bugling, rolling keyboard forces and arco string power are part of some tracks’ progress in the same way that walking bass strokes, brash open horn flutters and rhythmic keyboard chording dipping into honky-tonk effects animate other tunes. Tracks like Birds of Passage appear as if aviary yips and evacuated inner-horn slurs are going to dominate, then paced piano single notes and modulated bowing confirm the ongoing horizontal flow.

Without putting on airs, the trio establishes that improvisational gravity can be simultaneously intense and convivial.

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