Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Josh Berman and Chicago Jazz

Chicago Jazz flourishes. This should be no surprise. It also has a bi-regional and international presence. Ken Vandermark is touring Europe with an excellent band right now. That's just an example. NOLA trombonist Jeff Albert has teamed up with Chicago's luminous counterpart, Jeb Bishop, for the deservedly acclaimed Lucky 7s ensemble, who have an excellent new album out. And cornetist Josh Berman forms an important part of that group, along with tenor saxophonist Keefe Jackson and vibist Jason Adasiewicz. They are some superb musicians, so that comes as no surprise, either.

What has surprised me is that Josh Berman just put out his first CD as a leader, Old Idea (Delmark). It surprised me when it arrived in the mail because I did not know it was in the works. It's Josh along with Keefe and Jason in a quintet that features the fine playing, writing and arranging abilities of the leader. Josh has been around for about ten years, with fruitful associations that include Ken Vandermark, Rob Mazurek and as co-leader of the Chicago Luzern Exchange. His time is due.

Old Idea reminds me of what I like so much about the Lucky 7s. This is no straight-ahead blowing date. It's a beautifully paced program where individual players get plenty of opportunities to shine in the context of ever-shifting instrumental configurations and very attractive compositional vehicles. Josh is tart and assured; Keefe is impeccable in the ensemble and freely original in solo passages; Jason is a fabulous addition to the group with a post-Hutcherson attention to color, nuance, and spatial solos of daring and intelligence. The rhythm section of Anton Hatwich and Nori Tanaka on bass and drums, respectively, provide sensitive support and wide-open ears to what they can contribute. They do.

Old Idea is an excellent recording. Do not fail to grab it if you like the modern side of improvisational music.

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