Wicked Knee – Heels Over Head
(Amulet Records AMT034. CD Review by Sebastian Scotney)
Imagine. Lester Bowie’s Brass Fantasy gets hit by the recession, and can no longer afford the eight brass players it had in the late 1980’s, there are now just three of them. Also factor in a huge improvement in brass instrumental technique over the same period, which makes you hardly notice the smaller scale. Take into account the capacity of players in 2012 to play idiomatically in many more styles than they could then. And the result – with different personnel – would be Wicked Knee.
The band’s leader, drummer Billy Martin is best known for the twenty plus years and nineteen albums he has amassed as one third of Medeski, Martin and Wood. Wicked Knee is a new project,variously described as a “pocket brass group”, a “juke joint band”. Three brass players, Steven Bernstein trumpets Curtis Fowlkes trombone, and Marcus Rojas tuba are all stalwarts of the downtown improvising scene. Rojas in particular (who was also in Dave Douglas’ Brass Ecstasy ) has an astonishingly vivid presence. Together, they emulate and bring up to date the swagger and the leanings toward satire of Lester Bowie.
Billy Martin describes the core aesthetic of Wicked Knee thus: “We play RagTimeFunk joints with inappropriate avant-garde interludes to keep everything out of focus. It’s about ‘good times during bad times’ and we encourage you to dance with us through life.”
There are several excursions away from the outdoor upbeat breeziness which is the main feel of the album, such as the tender duet fror trumpet and trombone Rendezvous. The avant-garde is there in a track by guest vocalist Shelley Hirsch who, in 99%, plays the part of scarily needy white woman in New York for whom validation can only come by her being accepted by the black consciousness movement. I hope Max Reinhart gets to play it on Late Junction, just the thing to wake up a sleepy sedateness of late night BBC Radio 3. The final trck Noctiluca takes the listener off into eery, timeless, detached abstraction. You can imagine your own dreamscape, an abandoned ship crossing New York harbour perhaps.
But the core vibe as typified by Muffaletta (above) is infectious. Just the thing to brighten up these dark days of early January