Formative influences rarely fit into neat categories. At a certain, impressionable age, some music, like yet unlike anything else, simply manages to seep into a youngster's consciousness. What that particular music may be, who performs it, and what it carries within and beyond its notes and/or words, is something to be sorted out at a later date. But the seeds of influence and interest are sowed at that early stage, and that's something that David Berkman
knows all too well.
On this, Berkman's second solo outing, following his Self-Portrait
(Red Piano Records, 2011), the lauded pianist looks back to some of his earliest musical memories. In doing so, he binds the work of two figuresjazz icon John Coltrane
and folk bard Pete Seeger
who seem ill-matched on the surface. But dig a little bit deeper and you start to see similarities, if not in sound than at least in standing. Both men were truth-seekers, offering sage wisdom to anybody open enough to listen, and neither was simply an artist. Social activism and a striving for a better worldkey topics which remain driving forces in today's forward strugglesalso figured into their very different sounds and stories. In short, they were both sonic prophets for righteousness. One just happened to channel his messages through sophisticated harmonies, sheets of sound and spiritual quests, while the other worked with a guitar and lyrical savvy.
In binding the work of Coltrane and Seeger, Berkman artfully digs into the spirit of the '60s and the wisdom that each man offered. And he does so with remarkable clarity. Opening with the first of two takes on "Where Have All the Flowers Gone" and the lone trip through "Equinox," Berkman brings two separate worlds together under a banner of spirituality. Each shows its differences with easethe Seeger opener is more reflective and the Coltrane follow-up leans on its form with blues-driven DNAbut both bask in the glow of their similarities. That duality carries through for the entire program.
There's something new in the familiar and something wholly recognizable in what's been transformed under Berkman's hands. "This Land Is Your Land," for example, wanders and works its way across American life. "Moment's Notice" cooks and catapults Berkman back to a serious jazz stance. "There Are Mean Things Happening in This Land" is tuneful and ripe for exploration in more ways than one. And "Goodnight Irene" gently waltzes along without any worry about the tone of its absent lyrics casting some sadness into the frame.
The majority of these statements are on the shorter side, between two and six minutes long, and a few absolute miniatures, which occasionally blend meditative states and gamelan-esque metallics with the use of penny-enhanced prepared piano, offer a different window to the soul and source(s). But the album's coda "Epilogue: Giant Steps," which clocks in at more than 12 minutesmay be the most moving and surprising offering. Shunning the composition's associated athleticism and recasting it as an introspective design moving at a glacial pace, Berkman manages to make his own giant step to a new plane of understanding. In a way, that move is wholly reflective of this entire project.
Where Have All The Flowers Gone; Equinox; The Bells of Rhymney 1; This Land is Your Land; Moment's
Notice; There Are Mean Things Happening In This Land; You Don't Know What Love is; The Bells of
Rhymney 2; Goodnight Irene; Impressions; Body and Soul; Where Have All The Flowers Gone 2; We
Shall Overcome; Epilogue: Giant Steps.