This music touches the heart of free jazz.
Stunt Records STUCD 22092
Karl Berger (vibraphone, Rhodes, piano, melodica); Kirk Knuffke (cornet); Jay Anderson (bass); Matt Wilson (drums)
Recorded April 9th 2022
Occasionally, a jazz album arrives that doesn’t sound like anything familiar, save for its virtuosity. Heart is a Melody by storied vibraphonist/pianist Karl Berger and trumpeter Kirk Knuffke with bassist Jay Anderson and drummer Matt Wilson is one of those albums.
The songs on the album are mostly Knuffke and Berger originals, coupled with compositions from Don Cherry, Steve Lacy, and Pharoah Saunders, all of whom Karl Berger has worked with over the years. As a result, Berger’s musical pedigree is evident on every song in this collection.
Every selection on the album seems drawn from Karl Berger’s numerous decades of music but sounds fresh and original at the same time. The songs don’t sound like quotations from their multiple influences either, but rather remembrances. Additionally, each of the songs on this lovely album cover a large amount of tempo and modal territory.
The musicians in the quartet don’t so much take soloes as follow their own melodic lines in free the jazz tradition and work within the spaces of each other’s playing.
The songs on this album morph but never lose their insistency and joy, even on slower songs like Knuffke ’s elegiac Could Hear You, where the sustain of his trumpet works against the mounting and falling
rhythms of drums and vibraphone. Berger’s vibraphone and Kirk Knuffke ’s trumpet take turns presiding over the music, keeping melodic order across the spaces to which the musicians travel. Berger’s vibraphone parts often sound like chiming commentary on these musical proceedings.
Don Cherry’s Ganesha provides infectious groove with keyboards used as an almost harmonic decoration until the graceful and lilting electric piano keyboard that at first never strays far from the melody but then stretches it and takes it where it needs to go.
Gentle Giant takes the same approach, with Trumpet sounds like Miles Davis leading the way, only to quiet into an inward-looking vibraphone solo. Before or Since showcases vibraphone, with Berger employing it in the same way he used piano on Ganesha. Drums start with an almost martial beat than move to someplace busier.
Berger plays the vibraphone like an exotic instrument, adding bell sounds throughout. Ornette sounds like what it is, a tribute to Ornette Coleman, with Berger’s sprite vibraphone leading the way. Steve Lacy’s composition Art is airy and delicate, even as Knuffke ’s trumpet grounds the song against Berger’s electric piano. Why Not sounds like a free jazz exploration against a hard bop song head. It’s busy and alive.
No matter the song, each tracks sounds as if each musician gets into each other’s groove and follow that groove where it leads. The collective experience of the musicians on this recording coalesces on the freedom espoused on every song. This music touches the heart of free jazz.
Reviewed by Ben Miller