Greg Burk Quartet: Carpe Momentum (2004)
I was hooked on Greg Burk's Carpe Momentum from the first seconds of the first cut. Burk has in himself, and strives to bring out in his sidemen, that which I consider one of the highest achievement in jazz: the ability to be rhythmically free, while all the time maintaining audible contact with the prevailing pulse, giving the impression that he could touch down onto it whenever he wants.
Burk's development as a pianist and composer to this point has not followed a straight line. He says in the notes that "I used to be a straight-ahead guy, but it came to feel like a deadend for me. It was as if it were about how much language I could acquire, but the language didn't feel very representative of myself. When I improvised freely I didn't sound like that, and I understood that I couldn't put my voice into playing changes. Now I'm trying to bridge that gap, so when I play tunes it sounds more like I play in the free process."
This methodology of falling in and out of freer jazz (or is it vice versa?), of informing one kind of playing with the other is extremely refreshing. There is always that unpredictable "what is going to happen next" quality in his music that makes for the best jazz (that old "sound of surprise").
All of the tunes on Carpe Momentum ("Seize the Moment"great title) are Burk originals, and he has a gift for the memorable melodic line. I was singing the lines and tunes very quickly and remembered them a long timealways a good sign. Three tunes ("Hymn For Her," "For George Russell," and "Song For Sarah") are performed in the more standard way, (i.e. playing on the changes) but quite good. However, when juxtaposed with the others, the difference is striking. What was solid, swinging, cooking jazz now flies, expands and contracts, pushes and pulls, and in general takes you to another level.
All the musicians are just great, and the rhythm section of bassist Jonathan Robinson and drummer Gerald Cleaver must be noted for its ability to follow every twist and turn. But Jerry Bergonzi's contributions on soprano and tenor saxophone deserve special attention. My previous exposure to him showed an facile performer who was well versed in the language, so his performance here surpirsed and amazed me. Bergonzi is undaunted by the freedom given and demanded of him, and in fact many times he pulls the band along with him as he reaches new heights.
Carpe Momentum is definitely going to be on the short list of great albums I have heard in 2005. Jazz lives!
Track Listing: Burk's Quirks; Serena Al Telefono; Hymn For Her; Ink; Look to the Astroid; For George Russell; Hupid Stumid; Song For Sara.
Personnel: Greg Burk: piano, composer; Jerry Bergonzi: tenor and soprano saxophone; Jonathan Robinson: bass; Gerald Cleaver: drums.