Dan Berg & The Gestalt: Manifesto (2010)
Manifesto, the debut release from Dan Berg & The Gestalt, may be one of 2010's best recordings. The composer/keyboardista Brooklyn native and former student of reed man Marty Ehrlichhas created a smart, versatile and accessible collection that bridges genres and techniques, while remaining at home in the jazz idiom. With touches of Tin Hat Trio, bits of rock, Latin and the occasional operatic vocal, Manifesto has a broad appeal that fits contentedly within the overall scheme of the collection. Berg's eclectic tastes would not be a surprise to those aware of his cultural studies in Havana, or his work as an activist. Those tastes, as the album title may suggest, are manifested throughout the collection.
Right from the opening "Waiting for a Hit," it's clear that Berg is up to something different. An ethereal, wordless vocal from Kristin Young melds with bassist Matt Wigton and Pat Agresta's rock-oriented drumming. These diverse musical elements are brought together with Berg's expert use of melodica. The pace shifts dramatically with Berg moving to Fender Rhodes, as clarinetist Adrian Mira and alto saxophonist Jessica Lurie slow the tempo and provide highly satisfying solos. The overall effect of the piece is a so unique that each listen seems to reveal a different compositional aspect. "Why is a Crooked Letter" follows, with Agresta establishing a complex, off-kilter rhythm, while Berg, on mid-tempo piano, builds a restrained, but critical, foundation. Mira's clarinet incorporates some classical traits in opposition to the more driving background beat.
Berg's Rhodes reappears in "Conexions" and, while that instrument often signifies fusion, Berg's stylistic control blurs the lines that would allow for such easy labeling. The piece is edgy, with a contagious hook and a late touch of reggae. "Vibrant Phrases" could easily have been a flashback to the heyday of Motown, were it not for Young's soprano vocal. As before, her voice adds a dramatic otherworldly balance to Berg's Rhodes. The collection wraps up "Magnetisma," an acoustic solo from Berg. The slower tempo and assorted exotic rhythms seem a perfect way to closea beautiful, spare counterpoint to the multidimensional opening.
The overall effect of Manifesto is a stunning montage of pieces that flow flawlessly yet retain their individual and unconventional nuances. This is a beautiful collection, full of energy, charm and creativity, but always with just enough edge to challenge the ear. Berg's use of synthesizer, and somewhat less traditional melodica, is subtle. They fit perfectly and, like Kristin Young's occasional vocals, add to the overall ambiance. There isn't a throwaway track in the collection, and Berg's talents as a composer, multi-instrumentalist and arranger are on display throughout. Manifesto is an exceptional work that is both modern and timeless.
Track Listing: Waiting for a Hit; Why is a Crooked Letter; Relish Your Fears; Timshel (Thou Mayest); Conexions; Hook it Up; Vibrant Phases; Magnetisma.
Personnel: Dan Berg: piano, Fender Rhodes, Moog synthesizer, melodica, triangle; Kristin Young: vocals; Adrian Mira: clarinet; Jessica Lurie: alto saxophone; Matt Wigton: bass; Pat Agresta: drums.
Record Label: Self Produced
Style: Modern Jazz