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Adam Berenson: Lumen

Karl Ackermann By

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More than forty years ago, Harry Nillson coined the phrase "A point in every direction is the same as no point at all" and as an axiom it has stood the test of time very well. However, Adam Berenson topples the adage with his unlimited imagination and a refined command of weaving multiple genres and sub-genres into a coherent and exceptionally engaging program. Having worked with pianist Paul Bley as a student of the New England Conservatory of Music, the Philadelphia-area pianist and composer cites influences as diverse as Frank Zappa, Beethoven, the Beatles and Ornette Coleman. Berenson's inspirations are couched by a personal resolve that owes little to any individual and on Lumen he creates a moving work of art that is stunning in scope and unique in creativity.

This double-CD offers a sprawling collection of string quartet compositions, multiple jazz styles, electronica, blues and noise all of which Berenson sees as related to a consistent creative process and all falling comfortably under the umbrella of "chamber music" in the composer's mind. It's hard to argue with his hypothesis when this enormous collection flows seamlessly, logically and beautifully from one exploratory piece to the next, breathing, expanding and contracting like a living entity.

Lumen features almost as many personnel variations as styles of music. Bassist Scott Barnum has played with saxophonist Dave Liebman, pianists and Bill Carrothers and—importantly, given the content here—Ran Blake. Drummer Bob Moses knows something about working with bassists having sat in with Charles Mingus at the age of twelve. He went on to work with saxophonist Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Gary Burton and Pat Metheny among other notable figures. Philadelphia area percussionist Bill Marconi—with a diverse jazz background—contributes both in the rhythm section and with electronics. The very avant-garde JACK Quartet and an additional group of string musicians participate in the two string quartet pieces.

A gong, bells, chimes and other percussion usher in the spellbinding duo performance on "Transpersonal." The piece sets up the first of four sonic explorations in the non-sequential versions of "Jnana" which—along with "Spooky Action at a Distance"—represent the most experimental of the pieces on Lumen. Employing prepared piano and electronics, Berenson explores a range of tones, sonorities and genres from noise to neo-classical. His solo piano pieces, such as "Stars 1" and "Yasujiro Ozu" offer respite from the more intense and unorthodox pieces but still encompass a tension between structure and invention.

The jazz trio utilizes an irregular approach resulting in multifaceted sound, by turns forceful and—only occasionally—melodious, propelled by Barnum and Moses (or Marconi) and Berenson's impressive range of expressive character. The avant-garde "Emotional Idiot," "Ricercar (For Sven Nykvist)" and "Very Soon Mankind Will No Longer Be a Useless Passion (Broadway Melody of 1996)" present a variety of textures and modulating tempos within complex pieces. More melodic are the third-stream like "Rainer Maria Rilke," the appropriately childlike "A Little Boy Opened a Window" and the bluesy "Ingrid Thulin." Each of the two discs concludes with a string quartet, the first "String Quartet #3" featuring the JACK Quartet is every bit as unorthodox as the most experimental pieces performed by the jazz group. At more than fifteen minutes in length, it is sometimes as quiet as a whisper and at others, agitated and noisy. The five movement "String Quartet #1"—performed live and recorded in 1997—closes the second disc and is more traditional, often beautiful in comparison to the adventurous and eccentric closing of the first disc.

Lumen is a greatly ambitious and uncompromising collection whose diversity never trips it up. Berenson's cerebral process and understated—but unmistakably—dramatic sense of time and placement bring his vision into sharp relief. From free jazz to classical dance influences, he manages a balance between austere and radical, not playing into the hand of either, but producing something that feels organic. Lumen is an outstanding artistic creation from a limitless composer.

Track Listing: Disc 1: Transpersonal; Jnana, Pt. 10; Late 20th Century Stomp; Emotional Idiot; Prose Surrealism;Very Soon Mankind Will No Longer Be a Useless Passion (Broadway Melody of 1996); Jnana, Pt. 13; Rainer Maria Rilke; Ricercar (For Sven Nykvist); ... Was Near the Black Plague..; A Little Boy Opened a Window 3; ... Searching... Everywhere..; Dithyramb; Jnana, Pt. 8; Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek; String Quartet #3. Disc 2: "I"; Respectable People; Stars 1; The Adytum; Tickled to Death; Jnana, Pt. 18; Ingrid Thulin; Through This Stillness; Yasujiro Ozu; Spooky Action at a Distance; String Quartet #1: Pt. I; String Quartet #1: Pt. II; String Quartet #1: Pt. III; String Quartet #1:Pt. IV; String Quartet #1: Pt. V.

Personnel: Adam Berenson: piano, synthesizer, live electronics, and composition; Scott Barnum: double-bass, prepared double bass, live electronics; Bill Marconi: percussion, live electronics; Bob Moses: drums; JACK Quartet: John Pickford Richards: viola; Ari Streisfeld: violin; Christopher Otto: violin; Kevin McFarland: cello; Yukako Funahashi: violin; Annete Chan: violins; Ilana Schroeder: viola; Sigurgeir Agnarsson, cello.

Title: Lumen | Year Released: 2015 | Record Label: Dream Play Records

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