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Berkana is an electric fusion trio comprised of guitarist Nat Janoff, keyboard player Rave Tesar, and drummer Ray Levier. I have favorably reviewed two albums by Janoff in the past. His most recent CD, Looking Through, was quite impressive and set a very high bar for subsequent efforts. Tesar and Levier are heard for the first time on Berkana's self-titled debut.
The disc starts out with a bang with the Levier-penned "Whack, which comes at you the way the word sounds. Its head is reminiscent of something Larry Coryell's Eleventh House would have played 25 years after the fact. Then the band takes off, Janoff creating comet tails, Levier pounding away, and Tesar's organ doubling with Janoff when it is not on a fusillade of its own.
"Spiral finds the band in a Pat Metheny Group mode. However, after the melody is established, the trio veers off the reservation, leaving the clean, lush chords in its dust. Tesar piano playing on this cut is a highlight. "Behind Closed Doors is Berkana's idea of a jazz ballad. The Tesar original provides a fine showcase for his keyboard abilities and his left-handed bass playing, as well as further proof that all three players are strong composers.
Janoff reprises his own "Looking Through, an up-tempo rave-up, with this new lineup. He simply wails his brains out. That being said, it is not simply an exercise in self-indulgencein fact, throughout the recording is a consistent dedication to the spirit of the compositions. The musicians may have chops to spare, but they make use of every note. There are no throw-away pyrotechnics here. Sounding every bit as good as Weather Report, but with only three musicians, Berkana brings the album to an end with Zawinul's fun "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy.
Janoff continues to prove he is one of the most versatile guitarists around today. Tesar must also be closely listened to. New to these ears, he impresses with his utility and imagination. Drummer Levier drives the trio to the finish line in first place.
There's plenty of great jazz fusion around. But it is still rare to hear a group of musicians this accomplished playing original music of any kind. The fact that all three are fine writers is what puts this music over the top. They have collectively raised the bar even further.