Kirk Knuffke Trio (CD Review)

Kirk Knuffke Trio

Gravity Without Airs

Kirk Knuffke, cornet; Matthew Shipp, piano; Michael Bisio, bass

Tao Forms

Cornetist Kirk Knuffke plays his instrument with equal versatility to the more common trumpet, presenting a wide range of compass, dynamics, and articulations that leave his work continually fascinating. On Gravity Without Airs, a title taken from Marcus Aurelius, he joins with pianist Matthew Shipp and bassist Michael Bisio. Many of the compositions on the recording are by Knuffke. The other pieces are spontaneous improvisations. There is a permeability between composed and improvised selections. Knuffke brought the music to the recording date without sharing it with his collaborators first. Reading from the stand provided inspiration for the subsequent free play, making Gravity Without Airs of a piece. 

The title track is an odyssey that reveals the simpatico nature of the trio. Knuffke unthreads long phrases of melody. Partway through, this is replaced by shorter motives that Shipp responds to in counterpoint. Soon things get fiery and move uptempo, with Bisio pressing forward with a walking line. Shipp supplies cascading descending chord progressions to counterbalance Knuffke’s flights aloft. A syncopated repeated chord provides a little bit of space before the descending progression is resumed, this time with Knuffke following Shipp’s suit and changing the direction of his own lines downward. Ostinatos from Bisio and Shipp provide accompaniment to altissimo playing from Knuffke, closing out the piece far away from its beginning. 

Another piece on which they stretch out is “Birds of Passage.” It has a dramatic opening, with Bisio playing glissandos, Shipp dissonant chords that at times near clusters, and Knuffke wailing in his upper register. His facility with sixteenth notes is impressive and his soloing moves in different tempo relationships to Bisio and Shipp. All of a sudden, the storm subsides to a single repeated note from Shipp, who shortly begins to create a slow, single line solo over spacious voicings. Knuffke rejoins, channeling the early jazz tradition of the cornet with flourishes that eventually move back into greater angularity. Shipp continues to develop repeated note ideas while Bisio explores smaller ranges of sliding tones. The trio moves downward, Bisio inhabiting the bass’s low register, Shipp creating whorls of harmony, and Knuffke eventually responding with a mysterious, lyrical solo. The piece ends with an enigmatic twist.

“Sun is Always Shining” takes the trio into more hard bop terrain. Knuffke plays keening lines over fifths and octaves repeated by Bisio and fluid countermelodies; tangy harmonies, and oscillations in the bass register are contributed by Shipp. “Another River” moves the trio away from bop to free playing with incisive attacks and angular overblowing from Knuffke eliciting adventurous playing from his colleagues. The group excels at intensity, but their ballads are sumptuous too. The slow sustain of “Paint Pale Silver” provides a miniature utterance akin to the Wandelweiser group. 

Knuffke, Shipp, and Bisio know each others’ playing well, and it shows on Gravity Without Airs. That said, they demonstrate that they still share musical terrain to explore. Recommended.

-Christian Carey

Punch Brothers and Watchhouse – “Mystery of Love” (Sufjan Stevens Cover) – Video

Last week, Punch Brothers and Watchhouse joined together onstage, playing a cover of the Sufjan Stevens song “Mystery of Love.” Bandleader Chris Thile announced that the two bands, joined by Sarah Jarosz, would be doing an acoustic tour. The shows begin on July 27th; more information here.

Adams Boxed Set Listening Party

John Adams

Collected Works Boxed Set




What a seventy-fifth birthday present. Today, Nonesuch releases John Adams Collected Works, a 40-CD compendium of his recordings for the label and a few from other imprints. 


The curation of the set has thoughtful touches. It begins with Harmonielehre, the 1985 recording by Edo de Waart that began Adams’s association with Nonesuch and ends with a live recording of the same work by the Berlin Philharmonic, which released its own Adams boxed set a few years back (well worth seeking out). There are extensive liner notes, with essays by Timo Andres, Nico Muhly, Jake Wilder-Smith, Julia Bullock, and Robert Hurwitz. 


Adams continues his creativity apace. Accordingly, space has been left in the box for future recordings.


From 12:00 PM to 12 AM (EDT), listen to excerpts from the boxed set here

The Soft Hills “Tea Time” (Video)

The Soft Hills (singer/songwriter Garett Hobba) will release the album Viva Chi Vede via Black Spring Records on July 22nd. “Tea Time” is the first single off of the album, with a charming, traveling circus inspired video that pairs nicely with the psych-pop vibe of the single.

Garett Hobba

Jah Wobble Records Ukrainian Anthem (Benefit)

Renowned bassist Jan Wobble (PIL) has joined with Ukrainian musicians to create a dub remix of the Ukrainian National Anthem. All proceeds will benefit Ukrainian Refugees. Please donate if you can.

<a href=””>Ukrainian National Anthem In Dub by Jah Wobble &amp; The Ukrainians (featuring Jon Klein)</a>

Ukraine’s glory has not perished, nor her freedom gone
Our strong people, once again, fate will smile upon
All our enemies will soon disappear like dew in the sun
Then, once more will we be free, in the land we call our own
Body and soul we will lay down for our freedom
And the world will know that we are people of the Kozak nation

Produced by Jah Wobble and Jon Klein
Mixed and arranged by Jon Klein
Jah Wobble – bass
Jon Klein – guitar, keys and programming
‘The Legendary’ Len Liggins – lead vocal, backing vocal, violin
Peter Solowka – acoustic guitar, backing vocal
Paul Weatherhead – backing vocal, mandolin
Stephen ‘Mr Steff’ Tymruk – accordion
Jah Wobble cover photo by Paul Cliff
Video by Jon Klein and Rebecca Walkley; editing by Jon Klein

Ethan Iverson on Blue Note

Ethan Iverson

Every Note is True

Ethan Iverson, piano; Larry Grenadier, bass; Jack DeJohnette, drums

Blue Note


Pianist Ethan Iverson received an excellent birthday present today: the release of Every Note is True, his debut recording on Blue Note Records. Since departing the Bad Plus, Iverson has worked on a number of projects as a composer, taught at New England Conservatory, written insightful criticism and pedagogical articles on his blog Do the Math and for other publications, and collaborated with musicians such as saxophonist Mark Turner, drummer Bill Hart, and trumpeter Tom Harrell. Followers of these activities will note that the pianist’s encyclopedic explication of the jazz tradition in his writings has mirrored trends in his recent playing. 


Iverson, ever unpredictable, takes a different approach on Every Note is True. Apart from a single tune, “Blue,” by drummer Jack DeJohnette, all of the compositions on the recording are originals by Iverson. Many resume a connection to the rock-inflected jazz he made earlier in his career. Not one to attempt to remake the past, Iverson has selected collaborators who are two of the best known players in jazz, DeJohnette and bassist Larry Grenadier. The absence of covers – a Bad Plus staple – and presence of fulsome swing from his current collaborators allows Iverson the opportunity to blend multiple approaches into a compelling amalgam distinct from his previous work. 


A couple of imaginary theme songs populate the recording. “She Won’t Forget Me” is likened by Iverson to a rom-com theme, although I have never heard a rom-com theme with as zesty a solo. The album itself starts with a quirky vocal number, “The More it Changes,” a commercial sounding song featuring overdubs of a number of Iverson’s friends, Sarah Deming (who wrote the lyrics), Alex Ross, and Mark Padmore among them, who sang their parts remotely. Brief enough to leave a listener just enough time to scramble to their playlist and settle back in their seat, it is followed by the avowedly not soundtrack-related “The Eternal Verities,” a sequential tune with a little chromatic twist as it turns around. Grenadier’s playing embellishes the changes and adds countermelodies that interlock well with the spacious solo that Iverson provides. A coda brings the progression to a sideways yet satisfying conclusion. 


“For Ellen Raskin” is dedicated to one of Iverson’s favorite children’s authors. It is a gentle jazz waltz with bluesy inflections and deft use of hemiola – moving from 3/4  to 6/8 – to give a little Brahmsian nod to the proceedings. “Had I but Known” is an uptempo tune with sequences of dissonant intervals and polychords in the bridge that allow for a suave extrapolation of Fats Waller’s language and voicings. Particularly persuasive is “Had I but Known,” which is through-composed rather than primarily improvised. It combines a balladic cast with tart melodic punctuations and Ivesian verticals. 


Iverson admired DeJohnette’s “Blue” when he heard it on John Abercrombie’s 1978 ECM recording Gateway 2. With powerful fills from the drummer, Iverson’s interpretation revels in the tune’s unadorned triads, particularly the one at the close that receives an expansive arpeggiation. Whereas jazz chords usually contain more than just the triad, with 6th, 7ths, 9ths and more added to harmonies, using a bare triad in the right context buoys the connection that Iverson is making throughout Every Note is True between commercial pop, rock, and jazz.


“Merely Improbable” presents a more traditional structure, providing a chance for Iverson and company to play rhythm changes, variants on the chord structure of Gershwin’s “I Got Rhythm” that populate countless standards. As with the other compositions here, at three and a half minutes the run-time is relatively lean; I would have been happy to hear the trio stretch it out. “Praise Will Travel” is an ebullient piece performed with a tight groove offsetting florid soloing. Titled after an Agatha Christie story, the album closer “At the Bells and Motley” is a jaunty blues that demonstrates the trio’s simpatico interaction. Here we get the longed-for jam, with nine minutes of subtle shifts of emphasis and piano solos that build from restraint to sly quotation to gestures writ large and back again. Excellent solos from Grenadier and DeJohnette as well.


Every Note is True is an auspicious label debut that demonstrates the imagination, breadth, and wit of Iverson’s playing while maintaining a spirit of enthusiastic collaboration. Highly recommended. 


-Christian Carey


Moog Celebrates Herb Deutsch at Ninety

On Wednesday, February 9th, Herb Deutsch turned ninety years old. Deutsch has been an icon of sound synthesis both as a composer and hardware designer. One of the inventors of the first Moog synthesizers, he designed the keyboard interface that served as the basis for countless synths that followed. Moog Music is using this auspicious occasion to kick off GIANTS, a series of films about synth pioneers. In the video below, Deutsch describes his life, musical inspirations, and the early days of creating versatile hardware to perform and record electronic sound. 


After the film about Deutsch, you will soon be able to view a number of films that celebrate pivotal figures in electronic music on Moog’s YouTube channel. Future episodes will feature Suzanne Ciani, Bernie Krause, and Daniel Miller. Alongside the recent Sisters with Transistors documentary, the documentation of electronic music’s early luminaries is a welcome opportunity to reassess its legacy. 

On a personal note, as a fellow Long Islander, Deutsch’s long tenure at Hofstra University and co-founding of the Long Island Composer Alliance helped to provide many events that opened my ears to the possibilities of sound, and for that I remain ever grateful.


Celebrating Mendelssohn with Piano Music

Celebrating Mendelssohn’s Birthday with Piano Recordings


February 3rd is Felix Mendelssohn’s birthday. To celebrate, here are two reviews of recent recordings of piano music by the composer.

Felix Mendelssohn

Complete Music for Solo Piano, Vol. 6

Hyperion CD

Howard Shelley


Pianist Howard Shelley has been making his way through the compendious catalog of Felix Mendelssohn. The latest entry in his complete set, Volume Six, contains several well-known favorites as well as gems without opus numbers. If one has the impression of Mendelssohn as a neo-Mozartean composer of grace without the oomph of a creator like Schumann from the Romantic generation, the powerful Reiterlied presents a different side of the composer, as does his Sonata in B-flat Major, which should be programmed far more than it currently is. The Fugue in E minor reminds one of Mendelssohn’s affinity and advocacy for Bach’s music. Shelley makes the case for versatility in Mendelssohn but retains the quintessentially burnished and characterful nature of his “Songs Without Words” in recordings of two of the books of this collection. A lovingly crafted addition to what is becoming a benchmark complete works edition.

Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy

Complete Music for Piano Solo

Hänssler Classic 12 CD boxed set

Ana-Marija Markovina


Ana-Marija Markovina has released her Mendelssohn cycle all at once in a well-appointed 12 CD boxed set. Where Shelley brings out the luminous qualities of the piano works, Markovina is a classicist, creating interpretations that are lucidly detailed. I am particularly fond of Markovina’s playing in the sonatas and fugues, where she reveals the architecture of these pieces with abundant clarity.

The pieces without opus number, including fragments and juvenalia, are spread throughout the collection rather than put in an appendix. At first, this may seem surprising, however it is an excellent way to measure Mendelssohn’s prodigious development. The composition teacher in me immediately thought of using the fragments and short pieces with students, asking them for Mendelssohnian completions as assignments; they are ideal models. It is wonderful that both pianists have taken on this project, as there is ample room for their distinctive approaches.


-Christian Carey