There is a school of thought that suggests that artists create in order to better understand the world in which they live. From this perspective, music can be viewed as a way of knowing; a way of creating sense and order in the musician’s world. Though this might seem an overly profound idea, it is such a normalised aspect of a musician’s life that it often exists unnoticed, as a hum beneath the static of daily musical activity. The Knife, the fourth release from pianist and composer Ben Winkelman, however, is an overt manifestation of this idea. It is a deliberate and candid journal of his move from Melbourne to New York some six years ago.
This sense of documented journey is one of the many compelling aspects of the album: Through a homogenous blur of son, samba, danzón, gospel, odd-metres and indie-rock Winkelman spins tales of love and loss, public transport, a coffee machine, and even the humble beetroot!
While Winkelman’s writing on The Knife is intelligent and complex, it is the motion and lyricism that really impress. Tracks like Remolacha and The Crush are possessed of an almost irresistible sense of dance, while Prospects and Chico are potently lyrical and song-like.
Those who know his playing will be pleased that Winkelman’s move to New York has (if this album is to be taken as an indication) not resulted in a loss of self, but a strengthening of his musical identity. Winkelman is not redefining himself here, but extending and expanding. His playing on The Knife, while controlled and precise – evidence of his preparation for the session, perhaps – abounds with warmth and spontaneity.
Sam Anning, also an Australian expatriate who made the pilgrimage to NYC (though recently returned), shows on this album definitively why he is among the most sought and loved bassists in Australia: His time, sound, intonation and command of the instrument are simply impeccable.
While there is a risk that an autobiographic journal in any medium can descend into the realm of the indulgently personal, The Knife is a wonderful example of what can happen when a skilled, feeling musician observes and responds to change with intelligence and humility.
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