Thursday, January 07, 2016

CD Review - Josh Berman - A Dance and a Hop

Josh Berman
A Dance and A Hop

A formidable challenge faces the horn player whose has only bass and drums to accompany them. The music could be spare. It could be completely interactive, with the roles of leader and rhythm section erased in favor of something more egalitarian. Or said horn player could play his posterior off and make you forget there could ever be any shortcomings to such a setting.

That's exactly what cornetist Josh Berman has done with A Dance and A Hop. Granted, his familiarity with bassist Jason Roebke and drummer Frank Rosaly runs deep, and they're with him every step of the way. But Berman really works out on his third disc as a leader, easing from composition to improvisation. The length of all 11 tracks stay in radio-friendly territory, so no one stretches out too far. But they also say more in four minutes that a lot of musicians do in thrice that time.

Berman has been a strong voice on the Chicago jazz scene for about 15 years. To mention just a few pieces of his c.v., he's played in the spontaneous Chicago Luzern Exchange, the revolving leadership ensemble Fast Citizens (both of which include Rosaly) and he has released two other vastly different albums as a leader on Delmark. Regarding the latter two, Old Idea (which it wasn't) featured original compositions played by a quintet, (read about it here). There Now reimagined '20s chestnuts like "I've Found a New Baby" and "Love Is Just Around the Corner."

Besides generating a bit of head scratching, There Now proved that Berman's scope went back further than, say, Don Cherry and Lester Bowie, and, as indicated by the album's liner notes, includes reverence for the smooth brass of the late Ruby Braff. He might not usually play in that romantic, lyrical territory but his knowledge has boosted his arsenal of sounds so that he constantly generates deep emotion, whether he's yowling or creating something a little more grounded. He always has a deep thought that he's ready to share.

In "Time/Trouble," he uses his prowess to slide wildly from squirts into solid notes, a deft way of blending extended technique and melody. "Today's Date"'s solo is all about shooting air through the bell, with some gassy sounds thrown in for good measure. It may be one of the album's more extreme tracks, but it follows a few songs that find him cutting a more straightforward path, with just a bit ruggedness thrown in along the way.  

While Berman seems fine in the spotlight, Roebke and Rosaly don't merely fade into the background either. The bassist's solid playing runs parallel to or bolsters the plucky brass tone, as needed. Rosaly frequently uses brushes, which in his hands have the same authority as sticks, providing a heavy backdrop during a bass solo in "Your Uncle" and ending ""Time/Trouble" with a might crash.

This album won some accolades at the end of the year (it came out in September), but it warrants a second look by anyone who hasn't heard it yet. Find it, and Berman's other two albums.

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