"Mockingbird" All Music Guide review by Ken Dryden

"Mockingbird" All Music Guide review by Ken Dryden

A number of piano/trumpet duo recordings have been made throughout jazz history, though most musicians prefer the safety net of having a full rhythm section. But these two men, still in their twenties at the time of the recording session, had the confidence and the ability to play without a net, recorded live to boot. Trumpeter Jesse Stacken and pianist Kirk Knuffke met in New York City in 2005, and shortly thereafter began jamming together. After experimenting with a bit of free jazz, they chose to record ten pieces by two jazz masters, though putting their own stamp on each of them. Seven of the songs are by Thelonious Monk, including a few that aren't recorded very much. The cat-and-mouse rapid-fire interplay of "Teo" (which includes snippets of "Yesterday") is a wild affair, while their spacious hand-in-glove treatment of the ballad "Reflections" captures the essence of it. Knuffke opens the Ellington/Strayhorn masterpiece "Isfahan" (from "Far East Suite") with an unaccompanied improvisation, while the duo slowly savors this timeless ballad, playing it seemingly slower than Ellington himself to unveil its many facets. Ellington's "Sunset and the Mockingbird" is a neglected gem from his "Queen's Suite"; Knuffkes's trumpet takes on a whimsical air in his solo, while Stacken at times blurs the chords a bit with his liberal use of the sustain petal. This is the way jazz ought to be, taking risks and utilizing first takes, as was done on this enticing project.