Judith Berkson: Lu-Lu (2008)
The resonant voice of Judith Berkson has been ubiquitous in the Brooklyn creative music for years. The inquisitive concertgoer would be likely to catch her microtonal singing and delicate piano work in projects with trombonists Jacob Garchik or Ben Gerstein and drummer John McLellan, but more often in the context of her solo performances at New York's Barbès, where she can often be heard singing work of older composers like Robert Schumann and Arnold Schoenberg, as well as jazz standards and microtonal artsongs composed by Joe Maneri or Berkson herself.
Lu-Lu, her first solo CD, features Berkson accompanying her voice on the piano or Wurlitzer electric piano. The record is split mostly between moody interpretations of jazz standards and her original works. The title track moves with a deceptive urgency, borrowing time to pause one moment and rushing to arrive at some other point of interest the next moment, only to be overtaken by a wash of wordless vocal improvisation at the end. This leads into the lone classical work, Robert Schumann's "The Raven," one of the most touchingly evocative moments on the recording. Jazz standards bookend it: Jimmy Van Heusen's "Darn That Dream" in front and Richard Rodgers' "Some Enchanted Evening" at the end, with Berkson inviting the listener to remember the record with a light wistfulness.
Berkson's abilities as a singer are profound, with incredible control of tone and a command of pitch that far outstretches traditional musicality. Years of studying the microtonal 72-note scale system developed by Joe Maneri have afforded her a nuanced vocabulary of inflection. Her stark keyboard accompaniment and the glacial pacing of her rubato underscore the deliberateness with which she sings.
A debut solo CD has an inherent quality of being an artifact of an intensely private process and this is evident in the clarity of concept and depth of delivery in Berkson's work. Fortunately, the somber mood and austere setting of Berkson's work on Lu-Lu has all the passionate sensitivity needed to bring all of these works to life, while still reminding the listener that it truly is a wonderful thing to express oneself honestly and completely.
Track Listing: Darn That Dream; Lu-Lu; The Raven; Maltz; Out Of Nowhere; Wait On; You Are Special; Penny Lasill; Some Enchanted Evening.
Personnel: Judith Berkson: voice, piano, Wurlitzer electric piano.