By Stefan Wood
Knuffke likes to play off the seemingly dissimilar elements of free improv and mainstream bop and swing, and with both veteran musicians, "Arms and Hands" plays with those elements with varying degrees of success. The opening track "Safety Shoes" has a New Orleans funky swing, mixed with third stream inspired chamber jazz. Trombonist Brian Drye guests on this track, providing a swagger and heft in addition to Knuffke's horn as the group lumbers along in a pleasantly dopey manner, but never being absurd. "Pepper" (not referring to Art, but Jim Pepper, also a saxophone musician, of "Witchi Tai To" fame) is another stand out track, playful and boppish. "Elevator" has a strong funk rhythm, reminiscent of the boogaloo soul jazz from the 60's, but with a modernist twist. The trios playing throughout is lucid and tight, as if they have been together for years.
Many of the tracks are brief, sub five minutes, and the fifteen tracks maintain an even keel tone that becomes a bit monotonous halfway through the album. The compositions begin to blur together in their similarity. But at its best, Arms and Hands is a fun mixture of old and new, a mixture of small combo chamber jazz, sounding as if it was a Bill Dixon produced Savoy era 60's album. A nice album.
Available from Instantjazz.