Monday, October 12, 2015

David Berkman, Old Friends and New Friends

This post is about a new album made by contemporary jazz pianist songsmith David Berkman, Old Friends and New Friends (Palmetto 2177). He is no new kid on the block and this is not his first album by any means. So we aren't about heralding a rookie here, but rather recognizing the plentiful musicianship of an original and his band, in a reunion of artist Berkman and label-owner Matt Balitsaris after a number of years going separate ways. And it's also about connecting with old musician friends and new ones, the old being drummer Brian Blade, the new soprano-tenorist Dayna Stephens, among others.

When you hook up with new friends-associates and at the same time reunite with older ones it can have a sort of creative frisson, in my experience, and that quality comes out on this album. There is excitement, the creative juices flow, there are some excellent compositions and a high level of improvisational attainment. That's what I hear.

Who is the band? It is a sextet of David of course on piano, the aforementioned Brian Blade and Dayna Stephens, then Billy Drewes on alto and soprano, Adam Kolker on soprano, alto, tenor, clarinet and bass clarinet, and Linda Oh on contrabass.

Nine numbers grace the program, changes-oriented contemporary compositions with a flair. There is a wealth of soloists that David generously gives space to, so we do get his very together piano playing in solo but also lots of sax-reed solo space and some room for Linda Oh as a real soloist. Yes, and Brian takes a fine drum solo, too. The rhythm team of Berkman-Oh-Blade has torque and a presence that puts everything in place. Listen to them alone and you get a good deal to hear. Then the three sax tandem allows for a very full sound in the head arrangements as well as some very hip three-way improvising and then distinguished individual soloing styles as well.

The beauty and fine craftsmanship of the compositions-arrangements put this music in a zone where you know you are hearing new, exemplary jazz. They have enough of a quirkiness and contemporary quality that it all feels fresh. But then everybody in the sextet has plenty of chances to shine individually and collectively.

Berkman's lyrically post-bop piano playing is there at all times, and that too makes of this a special thing, perhaps definitively so.

Put all that together and you get one very fine album. Something to come back to often with increasing understanding. It has of it a potential classic in the mainstream zone, a classic of our time. That would need a decade or so to confirm. In the meantime it is a listen that will have no shortage of inspiration. Yes, do try and hear it. Buy it! Play it for your friends. It has that sort of infectiousness about it that one feels like spreading the word!

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