How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.
On his second CD as a leader, pianist David Berkman complements his regular rhythm section, bassist Ugonna Okegwo and drummer Brian Blade, with a triple sax team — Steve Wilson, Chris Cheek, and Sam Newsome. Some might find it difficult to differentiate the three saxophonists, although on many tracks Cheek plays tenor and Wilson plays alto, reducing the confusion to some degree.
Berkman’s writing is diversified, intelligent, accessible — and above all, swinging. The band starts cooking right off the bat with "Blutocracy," a lowdown, hard bop blues. They’re also in high straight-ahead gear on the faster, more ecstatic blues "Back In the 90s," as well as the funny rhythm-based tune "Interesting, Perhaps, But Hardly Fascinating Rhythm." But Berkman paints with far more unusual colors on ballads such as "Colby" and "Remission," contrapuntal delights such as "Blue Poles" and "Really Little Waltz," and ambiguous, hypnotic rhythmic constructions such as "Weird Knock" and "No Crosstalk." Berkman’s "Communication Theory" suite, consisting of three miniatures sprinkled strategically throughout the album, is ambitious and unpredictable; conceptually, it bears a resemblance to guitarist Rez Abbasi’s "Modern Memory" suite, from an album of the same name. As a player, Berkman can deliver hard-swinging, high-velocity solos in the manner of Joey Calderazzo and Kenny Kirkland, but he also speaks a more angular, classically influenced dialect associated with players such as Ethan Iverson. Communication Theory is a terrific achievement, and a sure sign of great things to come from Berkman.