Kirk Knuffke

Arms & Hands
Royal Potato Family RPF

Tom Trio

Radical Moves

ForTune 0045 032

Circumventing the limitations of the brass-double bass-drums format with contrasting game plans are Polish trumpeter Tomaz Dąbrowski and American cornetist Kirk Knuffke. Each has come up with an equitable and equally valid solution to the challenge.

Dąbrowski, who now lives in Copenhagen structures his compositions on the Tom Trio’s second CD to take full advantage of the varied tempos, rhythms and interactions available from his improvising and that of bassist Nils Bo Davidsen and drummer Anders Mogensen, both in-demand players on the Danish scene. Cheating a bit, Knuffke’s newly constituted trio with veterans, bassist Mark Helias and drummer Bill Goodwin, features individual cameo appearances on six tracks by trombonist Brian Drye, alto saxophonist Daniel Carter and tenor and soprano saxophonist Jeff Lederer. Considering that the CD is made up of 15 tracks, including a concluding version of Ernest Tubb and his Texas Troubadours’ 1964 hit “Thanks a Lot”, the additional players broaden Arms & Hands scope, with the core trio featured enough to demonstrate its innate communication skills.

Communication too is one key word that defines Radical Moves, with the pieces connected like the sections of well-made Scandinavian furniture. Locking into place comes as early as “Mornings”, the first track. With Davidsen and Mogensen holding the pulse steady, Dąbrowski has the scope to maintain a classy, well-modulated tone. Here, his open-horn work suggests a full-bodied Clifford Brown-like approach, and on the other hand, experimental expansion, as when he forges deep into the body tube to unearth plunger crackles plus distended bent notes.

As tracks range from the almost-Funk of “Adult Things” to the near-Hard Bop of “Root”, the most prominent characteristic is connection, whether expressed though the drummer’s shuffle beat or the bassist’s walking thumps. Often, as on “Clocks”, the trumpeter uses the walking bass line and drum vibrations to cram as many intense timbres as possible into his solo in a Trane-like fashion. Elsewhere, as on “No Loitering Please”, conjoined twin-like graceful tones are heard in tandem from the trumpeter and the bassist. The Tom Trio’s overall sound can be tremolo and frenetic enough to imply a 21st Century variant of “Salt Peanuts” as on “For the Little One”, but more characteristic of the trio’s commitment is a more wide-open tracks like” Double Booking”. With a stylish arco bass line setting the pace, the improvisations move at a leisurely pace. But this is done for a reason: like a train going around a tricky bend, the trumpeter is able to advance discordant notes that dig into his instrument’s innards at the same time as the piece moves forward.

Compelling in his adept tone blending Knuffke’s presentations take full advantage of his guests’ skills. Blurring together as if they’re two sleek leopards diving simultaneously through a hoop, the cornetist and trombonist expose similar color fragments on “Bonderizer”, while Knuffke’s staccato yelps add extra excitement to Lederer’s Sonny Rollins-like iteration on “Elevator”. None of this would be possible without the bassist’s and drummer’s sympathetic timing, which on evidence means the trio could easily have been left unaccompanied. For instance, “Umbrella” unfurls as Knuffke’s careful examination of every note in the intro is given added rain-proofing from Goodwin’s singular metallic pops and Helias’ judicious slaps. Comparable relationships show up on tracks such as “Use” where the cornetist’s light bouncy exposition is shadowed by the drummer’s rattles and the title tune, whose (inadvertent) Spanish tinge translates as both a brass showcase plus another confirmation of the trio’s tremolo blending. “Pepper” even suggests Knuffke emoting as if he was a blues shouter in a territory band as the others tastefully move down the scale accompanying him with Helias’ finger work appearing as intricate as a guitarist’s.

Transforming “Thanks a Lot” – oddly enough the CD’s longest track – from a honky-tonk classic to shit-kicking Country Jazz is more of an achievement. The pumping bass work and rickety-tick drumming may be a bit sardonic, but Lederer’s sax lines will never be confused with those of Boots Randolph. Still the contorted treatment of the head manages to be both true and transformative.

In truth, thanks would have been sufficient if the CD had just been by the trio itself. Knuffle who has shown his mettle in other situations such as Ideal Bread and various duos, should have confidence enough in his composing and playing abilities to record an unvarnished trio disc. Surely the trio work here affirms that such a bare-bone session would be as notable as what the Tom Trio have accomplished on Radical Moves.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Radical: 1. Mornings 2. Sydhavn 3. Clocks 4. Double Booking 5. Adult Things 6. No Loitering Please 7. For the Little One 8. Radical Moves 9. Let’s Dance 10. Pardon to tu

Personnel: Radical: Tomasz Dąbrowski (trumpet and mutes); Nils Bo Davidsen (bass) and Anders Mogensen (drums)

Track Listing: Arms: 1. Safety Shoes+ 2. Bright Light# 3. Root 4. Pepper 5. Chirp* 6. Umbrella 7. Notwithstanding 8. Next+ 9. Arms & Hands 10. Elevator# 11. Bonderizer+ 12. Tuesday 13. Use 14. Atessa# 15. Thanks a Lot #

Personnel: Arms: Kirk Knuffke (cornet); Brian Drye (trombone)+; Daniel Carter (alto saxophone)*; Jeff Lederer (tenor and soprano saxophones)#; Mark Helias (bass) and Bill Goodwin (drums)