Karl Berger / Kirk Knuffke: Heart Is A Melody

Vibes, keyboard and cornet led group offers a fluent and inventive update to the style introduced by Ornette Coleman's quartets


Kirk Knuffke, with his burnished, personal sound, is the most original cornet player I’ve heard in a long time. He appears to be joint leader here with Berger and he selected most of the material to be played. He contributed five originals and Berger provided three. The rest of the programme features music written by Don Cherry, Steve Lacy and Pharoah Sanders.

Both musicians say their allegiance is to avant-garde or free jazz. It is certainly my kind of free as it has melody, improvisation on the themes, and structure.

Berger’s Ornette is a good example of the way Coleman introduced his new music back in 1959. Cornet and vibes play a tight ensemble and then move into free-flowing solos with the emphasis on freedom from convention and swinging rhythm. Berger, a lively 87-year-old, plays one of his best vibes solos here. His lines just cruise along naturally and Knuffke follows with a similar, open approach to free improvisation. Bass and drums are important on this track particularly and attentive listeners will note drummer Wilson’s Ed Blackwell type African drum style on his solo.

Steve Lacy’s Art is introduced by Anderson’s firm, solid bass lines. He has a pure tone and plays true notes throughout, never a semitone sharp or flat. Berger has a rhapsodic vibes solo and Knuffke provides fractured cornet lines that appear to fit the composition ideally.

Berger plays piano, Rhodes and vibes on various selections here and seems happy and proficient on each instrument. He appears happiest and most inventive on vibes, playing an instrument he bought from another vibes player after using it in a club in Germany where the piano was so badly out of tune he wouldn’t touch it. On Why Not he plays melodica.

Apart from the very different instrumentation, this album may remind listeners of the early Coleman quartets, effectively offering an updated version of their style. Not to be missed.

Ganesh; Before Or Since; Could Hear You; Ornette; Gentle Giant; Art; Why Not; Noble Heart; Going Out; Heart Is A Melody Of Time (57.57)
Berger (vib, Rhodes, p, mel); Knuffke (c ); Jay Anderson (b); Matt Wilson (d). NYC, 9 April 2022.
Stunt Records STUCD 22092