By Bill Milkowski | Published May 2020
A spirited voice in the subversive tradition of Lester Bowie and Don Cherry, cornetist Kirk Knuffke persuasively straddles the inside-outside divide on Brightness: Live In Amsterdam. A companion to 2015’s Arms & Hands, which also paired the bandleader with drummer Bill Goodwin and bassist Mark Helias, this freewheeling recording from Amsterdam’s Bimhuis has the inventive trio calling on spirits in organic and uninhibited fashion.
Flaunting boundless technique and a creative spirit to match, Knuffke’s command of his instrument allows him to go wherever his heart and mind lead him. Whether it’s bracing free–bop fare like “Odds,” dedicated to the late soprano saxophone master Steve Lacy, or more exploratory numbers like the intrepid Jimmy Lyons tribute “That’s A Shame” and the dramatic, searching “Spares And Falls,” this resourceful, highly interactive crew reaches some ecstatic peaks on this daring, highly charged set.
The title track, dedicated to Sun Ra, opens with a series of solo smears and extended techniques by Knuffke before his ultra-empathetic partners join in a kind of beguiling waltz. Goodwin exhibits an alluring, lightly swinging touch with brushes here, then shifts to a laid-back New Orleans parade rhythm on “Rise,” Knuffke’s dedication to drummer and colleague Kenny Wollesen. The cornetist also makes his vocal debut on two songs, demonstrating an earthy, expressive quality on the rubato “White Shoulders” and on a more grounded, groove-laden “The Mob, The Crowd, The Man,” both containing bits of text from poet Carl Sandburg. It’s a brief detour on this wild ride.
Brightness: Live In Amsterdam: Brightness; Rise; White Shoulders; Odds; The Mob, The Crowd, The Mass; That’s A Shame; Spares And Falls. (45:02)
Personnel: Kirk Knuffke, cornet, vocals; Mark Helias, bass; Bill Goodwin, drums.