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Michael Bisio/Kirk Knuffle/Fred Lonberg-Holm - The Art Spirit (ESP-Disk’)

21 July 2021

Inspired by and dedicated to nineteenth century American artist Robert Henri, The Art Spirit is clearly committed to Art For Art’s Sake. (Note: the record is also dedicated to Mike Panico, the late founder of record label Relative Pitch.) Given the free and avant garde jazz in which its creators indulge here, it would have to be. Bassist Michael Bisio, cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm and cornetist Kirk Knuffle all boast credits from across the spectrum of improvised music, but, as this record proves, they have a special chemistry together. That’s especially obvious on tracks like the rollicking “Not a Souvenir of Yesterday,” the tension-soaked “A Dog Likes to Gnaw a Bone” and the shapeshifting “Both Keys Belong to You,” where the musicians’ like-minded pursuit of spontaneous composition keeps the music from spinning off into the ether.

Not every track is freeform, however; some move towards a more compositional bent. Bisio and Lonberg-Holm break out their bows for a haunting, harmonized drone on “r. henri,” while Knuffle adds carefully timed lines as punctuation. “Orange Moon, Yellow Field” threatens to vibrate to pieces thanks to Knuffle’s atonal blurts and the string players’ dissonant harmonies, but the players never leave its forward motion in flux. Though it has plenty of roiling thrum and arco screech, “Like Your Work As Much As” stretches out to eleven minutes, but stays melodic, even swinging, thanks to Knuffle’s horn work. The trio may casually leave conventional musical qualities behind, but it’s never in service of chaos. Instead it’s with the understanding that, when it’s Art For Art’s Sake, beauty is in the hands of the creator as much as the ear of the beholder.