Monday, September 03, 2012

Josh Berman & His Gang - There Now

The back cover of a new Delmark release by cornetist Josh Berman & His Gang, There Now, describes it as "a collection of jazz hybrids: both new compositions and arrangements of early jazz standards. The Gang is concerned equally with the great musical legacies of Louis Armstrong, Pee Wee Russell, Derek Bailey and the Art Ensemble of Chicago." To this Bailey has brought together some of Chicago's accomplished players including Jeb Bishop on trombone; Jason Stein on bass clarinet; Guillermo Gregorio on clarinet; Keefe Jackson on tenor saxophone; Jason Adasiewicz on vibraphone; Joshua Adams on bass and Frank Rosaly on drums.

Of the eight performances on There Now, five are Berman’s arrangements of songs associated with the Chicago Jazz of the 20s and 30s including Liza, Sugar and I Found a New Baby, while three are originals by him. WIth this unusual instrumentation and the imaginative arrangements, some may not recognize these songs. An example would be Stein’s free bass clarinet playing with his growls and sheiks that open Love Is Just Around the Corner, before the leader takes the lead with his cornet followed by Bishop’s growling trombone with imaginative horn voicings supporting the solos and a pulse replacing a steady beat.

An oversimplification of what Berman and his Gang has brought here is that some of these performances come off as if the Eric Dolphy of “Out To Lunch” had approached such material. Perhaps it is the presence of Adasiewicz on vibes (Like Bobby Hutchinson on the Dolphy album) that generates this thought, particularly on the leader’s original One Train May Hide Another. Throughout this recording there is a blend of imagination, abstraction, and free, as well as melodic, playing that this ensemble handles in a cohesive and imaginative fashion.

The interplay between the horns through ranges from contemplative to fiery as in where Berman’s cornet adds fore to Bishop’s growling attack on the original Clouds. Free playing follows surging traditionally ensemble passages on Liza, with Stein’s post-Dolphy bass clarinet here spanning a warm woody tone to bluesy leaps and squeals. I’ve Found a New Baby is usually taken at a hot tempo, but after bassist Abrams opens, the theme is stated at a very slow tempo as if they are performing a dirge prior to the middle section which evokes the little instruments and similar soundscapes provided by the Art Ensemble of Chicago and other AACM artists.

Kevin Whitehead’s liner notes provide background and insights to aid those listening to There Now! While this CD may not appeal to those rooted in traditional jazz, those familiar with contemporary post-bop jazz will find There Now! to be a most imaginative and fascinating album that is full of surprises and passion in the performances.

I received my review copy from Delmark. Here is a brief clip of Josh Berman and His Gang in performance.

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