Sifter Review NYCJR
Good-humored and spirited, Sifter (the band) is astripped-down ensemble consisting of three of NYC’s busiest musicians - guitarist Mary Halvorson, cornet player Kirk Knuffke and drummer Matt Wilson - while Sifter (the CD) sifts out 13 highly entertaining compositions by the members into a well-paced program.
Besides leading his own band(s), Wilson is the go-to percussionist for both mainstream and avant garde ensembles. Halvorson sometimes seems to be working every day, if not with her own groups, then with bands led by Anthony Braxton, among many others. Meanwhile Knuffke plays in both the other members’ groups and has recorded well-received duetdiscs with pianist Jesse Stacken.
If Sifter has a defining track it’s the Wilson-penned “Don Knotts”. Unlike its namesake, the fearful, bumbling actor, this intrepid performance adroitly unties musical knots and rocks as well as swings, propelled by Wilson’s shuffles and clacks. Meanwhile the theme is defined by Knuffke’s pirouetting smears and slurs and Halvorson’s chiming fills, slightly distorted with knob-twisting. This good-timey feeling is paramount throughout the CD, with the cohesive pulses and harmonic unity synchronized via slack fingering or chunky rhythm strums by Halvorson; skipping triplet patterns or swallowed, then brayed, brassy tones from Knuffke; plus raunchy backbeats or ambulating timekeeping from Wilson.
Knuffke’s “Proper Motion” is another stand-out and one of the boppier tracks. Echoing Monk’s “Played Twice”, the head does just that. Most of the piece then becomes a Wilson showcase, using hammers on cymbalsand positioned bass drum rhythms to twist the beat while maintaining the narrative, guitarist and cornet player return to recap the head and take the tune out.
Significantly, while Halvorson only composed two tunes compared to Knuffke’s six and Wilson’s five, hers are the most contemplative. “Absent Across Skies” is a
mellow swinger whose tessitura follows the shape of her near-microtonal slurred fingering. “Forever Runs
Slow in Cold Water”, a ballad, gives Knuffke a chance to inject open-horn excitement into its center, succinctly balancing the guitarist’s folksy, finger-style playing.
Exultant music with intellectual content, Sifter should impress
by Ken Waxman