Danish bassist, composer and arranger Kenneth Dahl Knudsen is in high demand as a musician due to his intuitive virtuosity on double bass, a mastery that has led him to work with the likes of John Scofield and Aaron Parks. “Tété” is his fourth release as a composer and bandleader, and follows his excellent large ensemble outing “We’ll Meet In The Rain” album. The quintet of musicians on “Tété” are Knudsen on double bass, Uri Gurvich on saxophone, Brian Massaka on guitar, Gauthier Toux on piano and Rodolfo Zuniga on drums.
Knudsen talks in the liner notes about the album and it’s title: “When I was very little, before I would speak, I somehow managed to give myself a name. A word that I would call out every time I was in need of something. Until the day she died, my mom would still call me by that name: ‘Tété’. It has a joyful ring to it and I see before me a boy that grew up in a safe, loving place. With this project I’m trying to find my way back there.” The multiple awarded bassist went on a journey through 33 countries accompanied by his bass, his sheer belief in the uniting forces of music and the glimpse of hope to get back some of the lightness he had in his youth. And it is perhaps this musical and emotional journey of self discovery that has led to his mature, multi-faceted writing that intuitively encompasses so many cross-cultural influences. He goes on to say: “With the rhythmic influences of Africa and Latin America, the expressiveness of Jewish folk songs and the harmonic elements of our European tradition, I now have a band that can go anywhere in the music that I want to. And hopefully, it can lead me back to Tété”.
There is a heartfelt joy and compassionate spirit to the 8 original tunes on this album. The whole quintet play with a freedom and skill that complements the composer’s musical ethos perfectly. The opening track “Stars” is aptly described by the composer as “Putting the night sky into music. It’s so unbelievably interesting that we are here, blazing through the universe on a floating ball.” And this feeling is captured perfectly in the music, like a joyous dance from someone on this earth watching a million stars buz by overhead. “Resettling” is a thoughtful, more reflective piece, based around the composer’s time living in Berlin, Copenhagen and Aalborg, cities that the bassist came to call home. “Shinjuku Silence” highlights the differences we encounter between people and places. It is also more generally a reflection on modern times. Knudsen was in Japan, surrounded by thousands of people in the busiest train station in the world, the Shinjuko station in Tokyo. Events led to an emergency stop on one of the trains and he was struck by how nobody interacted, feeling how many we are and yet how little we interact with one another. The anthemic “Three Boys” paints a musical picture of belonging and togetherness. “Viber” is the longest tune on the album, and perhaps best encompasses what this band are all about. Knudsen’s unique blend of contemporary jazz and folk-tinged melodies sparkles with a delightful effervescence. “A Thousand Days” is the composer’s tribute to Berlin. As he says “It was a stressful, blissful and beautiful time. The city is full of poverty, wealth, creativity and life in every aspect.” One of my favourite tracks on the album is “Lost Hope”. The tune was written after Knudsen took a phone call from his mother, with her telling him the sad news that she had been given just 3 weeks to live. Unsurprisingly it is a very emotive piece of music, encompassing many different emotions from start to finish. The album ends on an uplifting note with “Lunar View”, a gorgeous piece of lyricism based on the writer’s thoughts when reading an article written by one of the astronauts of the Apollo 8. They were circuiting the moon and the astronaut said “From up here, we don’t see any borders, any colours of people and religion. There is just a lightbulb we call planet earth.” I think this resonates in many of us.
“Tété” is a wonderful album. I for one hope that Kenneth Dahl Knudsen keeps this quintet together for some time to come. It’ll be very interesting to hear what they’re capable of musically as they grow together as a band.