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Bob Berg: Another Standard

Robert Spencer By

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"In order for a tune to become a standard," says Karen Bennett in her liner notes, "it has to have enough appeal and substance to keep both musician and listener engaged on many levels for many years." Late Miles alumnus Bob Berg's Another Standard asserts that status for a lineup of familiar but not front-line tunes: "You and the Night and the Music," "Summer Wind," the Beatles' almost unrecognizable "Michelle," "Just in Time," "My Man's Gone Now" from Porgy and Bess, "All the Way," "It Was a Very Good Year," "I Could Write a Book," and his own "No Trouble."

Most of this is a "standard" quartet date, featuring Berg on tenor and soprano, David Kikoski on piano, Ed Howard on bass, and Gary Novak on drums. Randy Brecker chimes in with trumpet and flugelhorn on the Gershwin tune and "I Could Write a Book," and Berg enlists Mike Stern's guitar on his own track.

Berg is a devout and thoroughgoing Coltraneian. He attacks "You and the Night and the Music" as if it's "Giant Steps," adding a few Impulse!-era phrase resolutions involving tinges of keening and honking; on "Summer Wind" he appends little commenting tags to his completed phrases, just like the man who recorded all those dates for Prestige. "Michelle" and "Just in Time" are more individual for the most part, but both eventually arrive in Sheets-of-Soundville before it's through. The liner notes explicitly compare his soprano interplay with Kikoski on "It Was a Very Good Year" to Coltrane and Tyner on "My Favorite Things," but the xerox machine was evidently set to copy light. A good bit of this — try "All the Way"— sounds like the lost seventeenth disc from Trane's mammoth Prestige box set. As far as I know, that box is still in print.

"My Man's Gone Now" sounds like the lost movement of A Love Supreme, which is certainly an original take on Porgy and Bess. Brecker sounds here a good bit like Wynton Marsalis playing the Coltrane masterpiece, although the Gershwin strains come through strongly in his impassioned solo. The original, "No Trouble," betrays a more Ornetteish flavor than Berg shows otherwise; it could be an outtake from Coltrane's venture into Ornette Land with Don Cherry on The Avant-Garde.

Bob Berg is clearly a virtuoso instrumentalist. When Miles Davis hired him, he knew what he was doing (maybe all the way down to the Coltrane inflections.) Berg's command is total and flawless. His mates, Kikoski in particular, are fine, although the rhythm section sounds a little dulled, what with thirty years of rock and disco between us and Coltrane's quartet with Elvin Jones. One may hope that in his next outing he leaves aside his homage to Coltrane and lets listeners hear a little more of his own voice. After all, in an improviser's art, that's what it's all about.


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