Josh Berman: Old Idea (2009)
A richly textured and delicately nuanced record, Old Idea is Berman's long awaited debut as a leader, fronting a quintet of regular collaborators Keefe Jackson (tenor saxophone), Jason Adasiewicz (vibraphone), Anton Hatwich (bass) and Nori Tanaka (drums). As is typical of the tight-knit Chicago scene, all of the quintet members play together in other ensembles, lending the session an air of carefree congeniality.
Berman is a longstanding member of Adasiewicz's quintet whose debut, Rolldown (482 Music, 2008), shares many stylistic similarities with this date. Like Adasiewicz, Berman re-interprets the asymmetrical melodies, fractured rhythms and striking harmonies of the innovative mid-1960s Blue Note recordings of Eric Dolphy, Andrew Hill, Jackie McLean and Grachan Moncur III for a modern age.
Berman's open-ended writing is complemented by his buttery tone and malleable phrasing, favoring the cornet's mid-range over piercing, brassy pyrotechnics. Mirroring his approach towards improvisation, Berman's pieces rely on oblique narratives rather than conventional head-solo-head formats for direction. The loose "On Account of a Hat" opens the record with a capricious arrangement and string of feverish solos driven by endlessly modulating rhythmic accompaniment. Berman and Adasiewicz contribute strong statements as Jackson's blustery tenor provides the tune's climax over a rapidly deconstructed vamp.
"Let's Pretend" invokes the noir ambience of Dolphy's Out To Lunch (Blue Note, 1964), as Adasiewicz's metallic flourishes pirouette across staccato martial rhythms and a descending melodic line, while the leader's fervent salvos negotiate roiling accompaniment from the band. The episodic "Nori" features similarly thorny detours, transitioning from frantic collective improvisation to serene balladry, punctuated by a swinging coda.
The timeless ballads "Db" and "Almost Late" resonate with maturity, the latter featuring a sumptuous, restrained duo cadenza between Berman and Jacksona perfect pair. The Latin-themed "What Can?" employs similarly unconventional instrumental combinations, with Berman and Tanaka locked in an effusive duet.
Serving as brief interludes, three different versions of "Next Year" offer potent reminders of Berman's compositional prowess, veering from contrapuntal exercises to rhythmic studies. A carefully balanced session of bluesy, cinematic atmospheres bolstered by old school avant-garde traditions, Old Idea looks to the past while forging headlong into the future.
Track Listing: On Account of a Hat; Next Year A; Let's Pretend; Nori; Next Year B; Almost Late; What Can?; Db; Next Year C.
Personnel: Josh Berman: cornet; Keefe Jackson: tenor saxophone; Jason Adasiewicz: vibraphone; Anton Hatwich: bass; Nori Tanaka: drums.
Record Label: Delmark Records
Style: Modern Jazz