"Amnesia Brown" All About Jazz review by Troy Collins
Brooklyn-based trumpeter Kirk Knuffke’s sophomore effort, Amnesia Brown is a far more esoteric affair than his conventional piano-less quartet debut, Big Wig (Clean Feed, 2008). Eschewing a traditional rhythm section, Knuffke is joined by fellow members of Butch Morris’ Nublu Orchestra—legendary Downtown stalwarts Doug Wieselman (on clarinet and electric guitar) and drummer Kenny Wollesen. Through sixteen brief cuts, the trio waxes and wanes from contemplative to impassioned, bounding effortlessly from one mood to the next.
Swinging without constraint, Knuffke’s trio ignores the conventions of free-bop hegemony, moving beyond the stylistic antecedents of his previous release, invoking not only the innovations of the New Thing and AACM, but genres beyond jazz as well. Generating a surprising level of timbral diversity from a limited palette, Knuffke, Wieselman, and Wollesen veer from the chamber music-like austerity of “Narrative” to the raucous futuristic rockabilly of “Fix it, Charlie.”
Wieselman’s approach towards his choice of instrument often dictates the trio’s tenor; his clarinet can be mellifluous and lyrical (“Need”), or strident and caterwauling (“High-pants Bob”). His amplified fretwork tends to be more abrasive, coloring “Red Bag” with coruscating shards, but he is also prone towards reverb-laced twang, used to good effect on the surf-inflected “Leadbelly.” Knuffke’s warm tone and earthy phrasing provides a stimulating contrast to Wieselman’s skronky guitar, while transparently knitting with his pliant clarinet cadences. Wollesen proves his rhythmic ingenuity without a bassist, fulfilling the role of both time-keeper and melodic colorist.
Although the tunes are brief (three minutes on average) the trio manages to pack a significant number of ideas into each of these miniatures—more than some artists fit into an entire album. The title track and “Leadbelly” are stellar examples of the trio’s ability to integrate inventive, succinct improvisations into memorable themes. Showcasing their diversity, “Please Help, Please Give” serves as the dissonant flipside to the album’s tender closer, the romantic and sentimental ballad “Anne.”
Referring to a bizarre family incident involving his great grandfather from many years ago, Amnesia Brown is appropriately disjointed, but compositionally astute, revealing an expansive worldview encapsulated in microcosmic fragments.