Relative Pitch RPR 1014

By Ken Waxman

Good-humored and spirited, Sifter (the band) is a striped-down combo consisting of three of NYC’s busiest players; while Sifter (the CD) sifts out 13 highly entertaining compositions by each of the band members into a well-paced program.

Besides leading his own band(s), drummer Matt Wilson is the go-to percussionist for both mainstream and avant-garde ensembles. Guitarist Mary Halvorson sometimes seems to be working every day, if not with her own groups, than with bands led by Anthony Braxton, among many others. Meanwhile Cornetist Kirk Knuffke plays in both the other members’ groups, and has recorded well-received duet discs with pianist Jesse Stacken.

If Sifter has a defining track it’s the Wilson-penned “Don Knotts”. Unlike its namesake, the fearful, bumbling actor, this intrepid performance adroitly unties musical knots. A tune that rocks as well as swings, “Don Knotts” is propelled by Wilson’s shuffles and clacks. Meanwhile the theme is defined by Knuffke’s pirouetting smears and slurs and Halvorson’s chiming fills, slightly distorted with knob-twisting.

This good-timey feeling is paramount throughout the CD with the cohesive pulses and harmonic unity synchronized via slack fingering or chunky rhythm strums by the guitarist; skipping triplet patterns or swallowed, then brayed, brassy tones from the corniest; plus raunchy backbeats or ambulating time-keeping from the drummer.

Knuffke’s “Proper Motion” is another stand-out and one of the boppier tracks. Echoing Monk’s “Played Twice” the head does just that. Most of the piece then becomes a Wilson showcase, using hammers on cymbals and positioned bass drum rhythms to twist the beat while maintaining the narrative, until the guitarist and cornetist return to recap the head and take the tune out.

Significantly, while Halvorson only composed two tunes compared to Knuffke’s six and Wilson’s five, hers are the most contemplative. “Absent Across Skies” is a mellow swinger whose tessitura follows the shape of her near-microtonal slurred fingering. “Forever Runs Slow in Cold Water”, a ballad, gives the brass man a chance to inject open-horn excitement into its centre, succinctly balancing the guitarist’s folksy, finger-style picking.

Exultant music with intellectual content, Sifter should impress many.

Tracks: Cramps; Dainty; Rubbish; Always Start; Absent Across Skies; Don Knotts; Original Blimp; Doughy; Free Jazz Economics; Back + Forth; Proper Motion; Forever Runs Slow In Cold Water; Vapor Rub; Utility Belt

Personnel: Kirk Knuffke: cornet; Mary Halvorson: guitar; Matt Wilson: drums