The track list contains originals and covers alike but Knight and Company make them all sound like they are owned by Knight. Peterson and Stitely share that ownership and the results are marvelous.
Beginning with the album-opener Cisco a tribute to guitar great Pat Martino. Right from the outset, the trio shows how well they play together and the cool Jazz is lively and invigorating. Tom Petty’s Mary Jane’s Last Dance and Change the World, written by Tommy Sims, Gordon Kennedy, and Wayne Kirkpatrick then recorded by Wynona Judd, Eric Clapton, and more, are two brilliant covers. Both songs lose their Pop sounds and are transformed into excellent pieces. And if you think you hears influences from George Benson, Knight admits as much. And it is sweet.
Bassist Justin Peterson’s Art’s Rant is a bit of Jazz march. Meant to put you in mind of Benny Golson’s Blues March, there are cool and intriguing rhythmic change-ups that are loads of fun. Knight and Stitely obviously enjoy it as much as Peterson and, God knows, the listener loves it. This composition is certainly not Peterson’s sole contribution to the trio and, indeed, the album. His bass playing and solos on songs like Workshop, a Knight original composed during a Peter Bernstein workshop, prove again and again why he is in this trio.
Other Knight originals include Suspects, Real Type Thing, and Just Add Meaning. Suspects was one of Knight’s earliest compositions but don’t be fooled, this is mature song that was somewhat influenced by Herbie Hancock’s Maiden Voyage. Real Type Thing “just seemed to write itself,” according to Knight. It is a funky piece that, at 3:43, is all-too-short. This could have gone on forever, as far as I’m concerned.
Chop Chop is a smoking hot Blues number that Knight just blisters. The virtuosity does not overbalance the fun. Peterson nails his bass lines with the speed of a Chicago taxi and Stitely gives us a terrific drum solo. Knight attributes the influence of the song to George Benson’s The Cooker. Listen to both and enjoy the influence.
Persistence, the title track, is largely the story of Knight’s dedication to making a career of Jazz. Persistence, the personal dedication as well as the song, has paid off marvelously. The theme of the song s belied by the light-heartedness of the melodies. An excellent Jazz-Pop number, it tells us something of Knight’s personality and temperament.
Two of the most intriguing tracks are actually two versions of the same song, Sharps Disposal. The title came from a doctor’s office visit wherein Knight saw the needle depository labeled as “sharps disposal.” The first version (track 4) starts off with a slow four-note motif before taking off into a F# minor Blues. Obviously, for Knight, the three sharps in the key are not disposable. The album closes with the slightly longer version of the song. You will notice the slight change in key, without all the sharps.
Steve Knight’s Persistence is a wonderful debut album that shows the writing and performing artistry of Knight but also is an exciting intellectual exercise for the listener. Knight and the band are more than entertainers, they are educators. Knight, Peterson, and Stitely, may we have more, please?
~Travis Rogers, Jr. is The Jazz Owl