The Jimmy Knepper Project: Avid Admirer
Jimmy Knepper’s name might not reside in the upper pantheon of jazz musicians, but aficionados know the late trombonist was a gifted soloist and a strong support player. He played with Charles Mingus on several albums, including the landmark Mingus Ah Um, often considered the bassist’s definitive work. Avid Admirer proves that Knepper was also a top-flight composer, but the album’s backstory reveals it to be more than simply a tribute album. It’s a literal passing of the torch.
Trombonist Reggie Watkins only met Knepper in passing. Shortly before Knepper died in 2003, he attended a concert by Maynard Ferguson’s Big Bop Nouveau Band, of which Watkins was a member. A decade later, Watkins’ mother and Knepper’s widow got to know each other through their church in Wheeling, W.Va. Eventually the Knepper family gave Watkins the set of instruments that belonged to the late trombonist, including his beloved Bach Stradivarius 36, which he uses on this album.
With such historical equipment at his disposal, Watkins infuses the music with an authority that shows off both his skills as a leader and Knepper’s advanced approach to composing. Saxophonist Matt Parker, alternating pianists Orrin Evans and Tuomo Uusitalo, bassist Steve Whipple and drummer Reggie Quinerly play with an urgency that recalls late-’50s jazz, when musicians were bringing new structures to bear on the music. Knepper’s compositions do that, never forsaking a hard swinging feel, such as when blues patterns are being extended. In the breakdown in “Figment Fragment,” Watkins tips its hat to Mingus and Knepper. Strong on its own merit, Avid Admirer also inspires a search for the source material, to discover what other gems might have been overlooked.