David Berkman Quartet - Live At Smoke

album review


Release date: July 14th 2009

Availability: CD, MP3 Download

David Berkman Quartet: Live At Smoke cover

Pianist and composer David Berkman's great albums "Communication Theory", "Handmade" (with Tom Harrell), "Start Here, Finish There" and "The Navigator" (with Joel Frahm) have set a standard as some of the best inventive, intelligent, interesting and always challenging jazz. Yet despite remaining a key player on the New York jazz scene, his recognition has been in decline of late – so much so that his entry in Cook and Morton's 'Guide To Jazz Recordings' failed to appear in the 9th Edition. "Live At Smoke", recorded live in the small Broadway and 106th Street club, should set the record straight.

The band is: Jimmy Greene (saxophone), David Berkman (piano), Ed Howard (bass) and Ted Poor (drums).

David Berkman introduces each of the musicians as follows:

'Jimmy Greene is one of my favorite sax players in the world. His sense of swing is so deep, and he hears and responds to everything. I first met Jimmy when he was a student of Jackie Maclean’s at the Hartt Music school in Hartford, Ct. and had re-connected with Jimmy on some gigs with the great free improvising bassist and composer, Mario Pavone. These gigs showed me that he could be both groovy and extremely open and spontaneous, playing any style of music with a lot of sincerity and commitment.

Ed Howard is someone that I had played with a lot years before when I first moved to New York and we had recently started working together again. He brings a mountain of experience working with jazz legends like Shirley Horn and Roy Haynes. He is one of the finest bassists in the world of jazz, swinging and powerful.

Ted Poor is the youngest member of the band, but is quickly becoming one of the most sought-after young drummers in New York. He seems to “get” everything, and he brings sensitivity and poetry to every musical situation he is in.'*

David Berkman himself is on excellent form. His tangential but always swinging piano playing is the centre around which bass and drums can weave complex, driven rhythms and over which Jimmy Greene's sax playing can excel.

David Berkman photo
David Berkman

"Weird Knock" from "Communication Theory" has now become "Weird Knack", a nine and half minute masterpiece of off-kilter invention. "The Mayor Of Smoke" is a loping, bluesy improvisation with once again challenging takes on meter and fixed tone centre. "Simple Pleasures" and "Hidden Fondness" allow fine soloing from David Berkman and Jimmy Greene in a quartet that is firing on all cylinders. (The only objection to Jimmy Greene's playing is the sometimes harmonica-like tone he is getting from his reed).

Benny Golson's "Along Came Betty" is an extended piano trio piece centred much more in the classic jazz mainstream and serves as a refreshing interlude. The closing "Carroll Street Pop Tune" features Jimmy Greene on soprano sax and does indeed tilt towards pop melody and rhythmic simplicity.

This excellent album should do much to remind anyone that doesn't know that David Berkman is one of the key pianists and composers on the jazz scene today.

(*David Berkman interview for Challenge Records here ).

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Read our review of Daid Berkman – Communication Theory here.

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