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Adam Berenson, Scott Barnum & Bob Moses: Assemblages

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Adam Berenson, Scott Barnum & Bob Moses: Assemblages
Keyboardist and composer Adam Berenson has at his disposal an arsenal of instruments, electronics, synthesizers, etc. But to hear him in the traditional acoustic piano trio setting is immensely enjoyable, while hardly "traditional." On the double-disc Assemblages, Berenson puts aside his Korg Triton Extreme, Yamaha Symphonic Ensemble and other impressively named and plugged-in instruments in favour of the piano and colleagues Scott Barnum on double-bass and Bob Moses on percussion. The trio previously released three albums on the Dream Play label: Dialectical Constructs (1996) and Contextual (1999), and Representations (1997).

Berenson's under-recognized albums—now numbering around two dozen—are works of intelligence and art. However, they are neither academic nor elitist but reflections of a lifetime of broad experiences. Berenson is an accomplished screenwriter and teacher, composing across jazz, classical, electronica, and new music. More often than not, his music sounds genre-less. Barnum has performed with Dave Liebman, Tim Hagans, and Phil Grenadier, among many other artists. Berenson and Barnum are longtime collaborators who first recorded as an acoustic duo in 2001, later on Journey Through Space (Self Produced, 2007) and then on Jnana (Dream Play Records, 2010), a trio outing with percussionist Bill Marconi. Moses is a drummer whose seemingly loose approach is guided by unwritten rules. He has a long resume, sprinkled with some of the best-known jazz artists including Gary Burton, Steve Swallow, Jaco Pastorius, and Pat Metheny.

A recent article quoted a Manfred Eicher observation: "Nothing is more mysterious than clarity." That observation came to mind from the outset of Assemblages. The clarity of "Ideology is Consciousness" is deceptive. The trio never entirely goes in an expected direction, finely shifting to follow a single unanticipated note. Similarly, crooked lines dominate enigmatic pieces such as "The Desert" and "Can You See the Puppet Strings?" Moses, in an email, said (without elaboration) that he doesn't consider himself a drummer, an interesting self-assessment, especially when listening to the terrific, mostly percussion piece "Anxiety Dream." Like the late Milford Graves, Moses has a penchant for bypassing the snare for the toms. "Shadows of What it is Not" is a stealthy piano ballad closing the first disc.

Several of the second disc pieces, such as "The Elusive Ground of Reason," the elegant "Demotic Rhythms" and "The Phantasmatic Frame" are more emphatically melodic but that is an oversimplification. These Berenson-penned tracks play out as piercing, personal statements, haunting but stimulating. The program ends with the nineteen-minute "Guide from Beyond," a tribute to the Italian classical and jazz pianist Stefano Battaglia. Predominantly a piano piece, it is rife with impressionist textures and authentic humanity. Berenson's classical influences are present throughout the stirring finale.

Assemblages is unconventional, even in its quietest moments. It takes rare agility to efficiently move in and out of all these musical worlds without leaving a telltale footprint between. Berenson composed fourteen of the twenty tracks, the remainder being group efforts. The pianist's work neither romanticizes nor conveys detachment. Barnum and Moses are a great rhythm section contributing complex articulation or laying low when warranted. Assemblages is sophisticated and warm and rewards repeated listening.

Track Listing

CD1: Ideology is Consciousness; The Desert; Before it Died (it gave us the code); Sinthome; Majestic Desolation; Fernando Pessoa; Anxiety Dream; Can You See Your Puppet Strings?; Catacombs; Shadows of What it is Not. CD2: The Elusive Ground of Reason (glimpsed in the gesture of its withdrawal); Rachel Carson; The Disinterested Loan and Life Assurance Company; Pit of Acheron; Demotic Rhythms; The Phantasmatic Frame; The Ecclesiastical Fashion Show; The Ninth Amendment; Satyagraha; Guide From Beyond (for Stefano Battaglia).

Personnel

Adam Berenson: piano; Scott Barnum: bass; Bob Moses: drums.

Album information

Title: Assemblages | Year Released: 2021 | Record Label: Dream Play Records

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