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Bisio/Knuffke/Lonberg-Holm - The Art Spirit [ESP Disk - 2021]

The Art Spirit is an album that flirts between free jazz and modern chamber music- sometimes sitting in one camp or the other, or at other times blending and blurring the two genres together. The release comes in form of an eight-track CD album on the long-running and highly respected NYC jazz label ESP’ Disk- with the disc offering up sixty-one minutes of music. 

The CD comes presented in a dark orange coloured four-panel digipak- this features on its front cover an aged cog and spring contraption set on concrete, and on the inside, we get black and white pictures of a three-piece playing live. The music on the album is inspired by Robert Henri( 1865- 1929)- an American painter and teacher, part of the Ashcan School of American realism- who in their work depicting urban life in an uncompromisingly brutalist manner, which is a great theme for an album like this that brings together two often angular and difficult genres.

The three-piece brings together Michael Bisio on Bass, Kirk Knuffke on cornet and soprano Cornet, and Fred Lonberg-Holm on Cello and electronics. This album is the second time these three have recorded together, with the first time being 2019’s Requiem For A New York Slice which appeared in Iluso Records.
 
The eight tracks here each run between five and eleven minutes, with a good mix of shorter and longer tracks. The album moves from lullingly playful-to- later seared horn meets rapidly seesawing bass and cello tones of “Orange Moon Yellow Field”. Onto skittering high neck play & manic low-end fumbling meets piping wonderings of “Like Your Work As Much As”, through to wonkily regal and forlorn “r. henri” which really is a perfect meeting of chamber and free jazz, with its blend of sombre strown out bass and cello, glumly weaving cornet work.
 
All three players here are clearly keen and talented improvisers- and when they hit that sweet spot between harmony and discord, it’s a thing to behold. I felt maybe a few of the tracks could maybe have had a bit more sonic discipline and control, though this feeling of weaving and waving unbalance also brings some of the most effective and rewarding moments here.
 
In finishing I’d say the mix of improv and chamber music on display here is interesting and distinct- not all of it worked for me, but if you like where genres meet and blend in a chaotic/ sometimes lopsidedly wonderful manner I’d give The Art Spirit a go.

Rating: 3 out of 5Rating: 3 out of 5Rating: 3 out of 5Rating: 3 out of 5Rating: 3 out of 5

Roger Batty
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