Jimmy Knepper will always be remembered as the trombonist who graced Charles Mingus’ bands first in the late 1950s and 1960s, and then again in the 1970s until after Mingus’ death when he played with early incarnations of the Mingus Dynasty. Indeed it was Mingus who brought his to the attention of the Jazz World with a 1957 recording entitled The Jazz Workshop Presents Jimmy Knepper on which he recorded four tracks, including three originals. However, Knepper also played and recorded with Maynard Ferguson, the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Big Orchestra and the Jazz Composers Orchestra conducted by Carla Bley and several other iconic artists including Dizzy Gillespie, Kai Winding, George Adams and Dannie Richmond. Although he record relatively little on his own, Knepper was known as one of the greatest trombonists in Jazz and an important composer as well.
However, like most classic Jazz music, Knepper’s music remains virtually unheard except among historically-conscious musicians and especially trombonists. This is why Avid Admirer (The Jimmy Knepper Project) by Reggie Watkins marks an important step in bringing Jimmy Knepper’s voice into the limelight again. The fortuitous circumstances in which this recording was made, involving Knepper’s daughter and zealous guardian of the great trombonist’s legacy, Robin Knepper Mahonen and Watkins is also quite the story and is detailed in Knepper Mahonen’s touching notes. The collection of songs on this programme also represents some of Knepper’s most significant compositions. The music also exemplifies some of the finest work from the Jimmy Knepper songbook. However, there is still more to be heard and one hopes that this record is only the beginning.
As much as Jimmy Knepper’s musical is glorified on this album, it is also a reminder of just how wonderful a trombonist Reggie Watkins really is. On this recording Watkins can be heard paying glowing tribute to the incisiveness and urgency, and the breathtaking balance of poise and daring in Knepper’s work. He does so in the grand manner: favouring flowing tempi, a great sense of spontaneity and elasticity, and with growing ebullience signaled subtly as liquid streams of quavers, semi- and demi-semi-quavers gather into gentle cascades reaching fruition only at the end of soli, which surge exultantly. In between there’s the ebb and flow, a multiplicity of swirling currents that are somehow contained as an uninterrupted, unified body of music. ‘Cunningbird’ is a glorious example, although, the more one listens the more intensely, memorably expressive Reggie Watkins sounds almost completely through this wonderfully swinging programme.
This recording is a must for serious Jimmy Knepper fans, trombonists and for those who wish to discover the work of Reggie Watkins. That’s not all, however. The cast of musicians also includes the mesmeric pianism of Orrin Evans, the presence of Reggie Quinerly – a superb young musician – on drums, who plays with sustained fire and bristling rhythms, Steve Whipple, a bassist with a majestic voice as well as Matt Parker, a saxophonist with an eloquent, voluptuous tone and Tuomo Uusitalo, a dynamic young Finnish pianist who bristles with genius and can be heard on three charts. This is a truly memorable album that bears repeated listening whereupon many more treasures in Jimmy Knepper’s music are revealed.
Track List: Figment Fragment; Idol Of The Files; Cunningbird; Noche Triste; In The Interim; Avid Admirer; Ogling Ogre; Primrose Path; Goodbye.
Personnel: Reggie Watkins: trombone; Matt Parker: tenor and soprano saxophone; Orrin Evans: piano (1 – 6); Tuomo Uusitalo: piano (7 – 9); Steve Whipple: bass; Reggie Quinerly: drums.