In describing David Berkman’s music on Old Friends and New Friends the word ‘breathtaking’ is likely to surface more than once. And indeed, for those looking to relive the experience now is the time to run out and get a copy. I find it hard to relate to any of the music – and I mean any song on this record – without an audible gasp escaping the lips. It’s inevitable. There are so many great ideas, so many dramatic twists and turns in the melody as saxophonists Dayna Stephens, Billy Drewes and Adam Kolker embark on chorus after chorus of marvellous soli, and such delightfully ineffable harmonisations from bassist Linda Oh and the genius of a drummer Brian Blade it’s impossible not to be left breathless.
‘Breathtaking’ also describes large sketches of this recording. Right from the beginning David Berkman combs through every nuance in the scores of each of the charts, his brilliant sonorities – both individually and blended – deftly recorded by Matt Balitsaris. Song after song confirms David Berkman’s growing credentials as a major exponent not only of the piano, but also of the orchestrations that go with it to make this music ever so memorable. As each song progresses, performances begin to get more and more definitive. Genius? Why not call it as it is? And because every arrangement is so special unto itself the horns respond in spectacular manner. Mr. Drewes is soft and feathery, Dayna Stephens is lyrical, while at the same time singular in his exactitude of tonal colour and timbre of note after note and Adam Kolker is swift and secular as a scythe slicing his way through melody aiming his sharp probing jabs at the singular music of David Berkman. Listen to Deep High Wide Sky and Up Jumped Ming and you will hear exactly what I mean.
These performances together with those of Linda Oh and Brian Blade, and of course David Berkman have much to offer – poise, intensity and dignity – and we should also not lose sight of such epithet as considered, profoundly beautiful and, well… ‘Breathtaking’. David Berkman seems constantly aware of his work’s correct import in the order of things, of the jazz world. His improvisations, tempo and key changes often demand the listener’s attention but never at the expense of the music’s character. The pianist’s musical sculptures and narratives consistently unfold all of the energy of the young pianist himself as if he were discovering and rediscovering the spontaneity of youth itself. Moreover he always maintains freshness of conception just as well as he manages to keep the overall score of each piece in mind.
How can something so ‘breathtaking’ not be memorable as well? This is as perfect as I know any classic recording to be. I know it will always hold pride of place in my record collection. I remember each tune and it plays back in my head often, making my heart go faster and I will replay this music for a long time to come. It’s really that good.
Track List: Tribute; No Blues No Really No Blues; Past Progressive; Deep High Wide Sky; Strange Attractions Then Birds; No Blues No Really No Blues (Trio Version); West 180th Street; Up Jumped Ming.
Personnel: David Berkman: piano; Dayna Stephens: soprano saxophone, tenor saxophone; Billy Drewes: alto saxophone, soprano saxophone; Adam Kolker: soprano saxophone, alto saxophone, tenor saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet; Linda Oh: bass; Brian Blade: drums.
About David Berkman
Since moving to New York in 1985, David Berkman has been an important part of the jazz community. He is an award-winning composer/bandleader (2000 Doris Duke/Chamber Music America New Works Creation and Presentation Grant), a recording artist whose 9 recordings as a leader have appeared on numerous best records of the year critic’s lists (the New York Times, the Village Voice, Downbeat, Jazziz, Jazz Times and others) and an award-winning jazz clinician who has performed and taught at numerous jazz camps, universities and conservatories around the United States, South America, Asia and Europe. Read more…