Judith Berkson: Oylam (2010)
, creates a pervasive, subtle but unequivocally moving spirituality throughout.
Berkson's second disc after her 2008 debut, Lu-Lu (Peacock Recordings), the overall concept may be similarmusic for voice, accompanied in unorthodox fashion on electric piano or organ (acoustic piano is only used on six of Oylam's fourteen songs). But Berkson's inclusion of just two Jewish song, amongst an original-heavy repertoire that reflect her past work interpreting the microtonal art songs of the late Joe Maneri
could never have envisaged. Her version of George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin's "They Can't Take That Away From Me" swings with requisite credibility, even as Berkson chooses, in an unusual move, to accompany herself on electric piano.
Berkson's instrumental chops are as broad as her source material, evoking abstruse majesty on the two versions of her own "Goodbye Friend" that bookend the discdistantly hinting at the darker side of Erik Satie's compositional economywhile delivering a surprising reading of "All of You" that clarifies her intimacy with the jazz vernacular, even as she prismatically filters its iconic melody in ways that composer Cole Porter
Berkson possesses a voice as pliant as the demands of the music, singing with cantorial reverence in an interpretation of the liturgical text "Ahavas Olam" ("Everlasting Love") accompanied, curiously, by Hammond organand layering her vocals to build three-part harmony on the haunting, a capella "Hulyet, Hulyet." Elsewhere, she demonstrates an incredible ability to manage the non-melismatic but technically demanding intervals and precisely articulated chromaticism of original songs like "Inside Good Times," winding her way through oblique melodies that, were it not for the clear evidence otherwise, would be hard-pressed to fall into the category of "singable." There's beauty to be found, too, in particular Berkson's lyric interpretation of Franz Schubert's "Der Leiermann," even as the subject matteras on most of Oylamleans to the bleak, the stark, and the brooding.
ECM's affinity for singers is exceedingly select, but Oylam introduces, to a broader international audience, a singer worthy of inclusion in the small but significant club that already includes Norma Winstone, Sidsel Endresen and Susanne Abbuehl; distinct voices all, and ones who, like Berkson, prefer the road less traveled to the familiar and predictable path.
Track Listing: Goodbye Friend No 1; Brute; Inside Good Times; Clives; All Of You; Mi Re Do; Ahavas Oylam; Little Arrows; Der Leiermann; Fallen Innocent Wandering Thieves; They Can't Take That Away From Me; Burnt; Hulyet, Hulyet; Goodbye Friend No 2.
Personnel: Judith Berkson: voice, piano, Wurlitzer and Rhodes pianos, Hammond organ.
Record Label: ECM Records
Style: Free Improv/Avant-Garde