Pianist Greg Burk may only be known to a small group of listeners, but that's a situation that should change, and on the strength of his latest release, Carpe Momentum , it should change right now. With but a few recordings to his name since he emerged in the late '90s, Burk is already a well- formed composer and player, with a disposition towards post bop, peppered with a sense of freedom that gives it a distinctive edge.
Fleshing out this date to a quartet from his last date, Checking In (Soul Note, '02), Burk brings back bassist Jonathan Robinson, a bassist with a big sound who is as capable of melodic arco work as he is of swinging hard, as he does on "Burk's Quirks." Fans of Gerald Cleaver's work on Thirsty Ear recordings including pianist Craig Taborn's Light Made Lighter and Matthew Shipp's electronica records Equilibrium and Harmony and Abyss will be surprised to hear him in a more-or-less straightforward session, albeit one with its fair share of free moments. But the real revelation is saxophonist Jerry Bergonzi, a player with a reputation that is, sadly, far bigger than his audience. A saxophonist who may have originally come from the Coltrane school, Bergonzi is nevertheless his own man, with a less brittle sound than Coltrane, but an equally inventive and expressionist approach to everything from the circuitous "Serena Al Telefono" to the tender ballad, "Hymn for Her."
Burk's compositions can revolve around complex conceits, as in "Look to the Astroid," which, as the liner notes describe, "juxtapose two tempii, fast and slow, co-existing as does a heavenly body's speed against the length of its journey through space," to the more open-ended "Ink," where free passages are linked by miniature rubato passages at the start, middle and end of the tune. "For George Russell," based around the circle of fifths, swings harder than anything else on the record, while "Hupid Stumid" is a quirky piece that, again, opens the group into freer territory, all the while based around a loose modal idea that glues everything together. "Song for Sara" is the most lyrical piece on the record, with some beautiful arco work from Robinson.
Burk cites Paul Bley as a major influence, and to be sure, the spirit of Bley is present during the freer passages; but Burk is broader than that, with a melodic style and comfortable sense of swing that comes equally from McCoy Tyner and, to a lesser extent, Herbie Hancock.
With a set of thoughtfully-composed pieces that traverse a variety of terrains, and strong playing from everyoneincluding a rare appearance by Bergonzi on soprano saxophone Carpe Momentum does, indeed, size the moment, and demands the listener's attention throughout.
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