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Jeff Berlin: Lumpy Jazz

Woodrow Wilkins By

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It's not every day you hear an electric bass played with the old-school verve of an upright acoustic instrument. Jeff Berlin offers a good reason—make that several good reasons—to change that way of thinking.

Alongside Jaco Pastorius, Stanley Clarke and Alphonso Johnson, Berlin is known as a major innovator through his incisive playing through recordings and performances for the last twenty years. He has performed with such players as Billy Cobham, John McLaughlin, Jermaine Jackson, Issac Hayes, Bill Bruford, Yes, Allan Holdsworth, Toots Thielemans (who makes a guest appearance on Berlin's new album), Larry Coryell, David Liebman, Arturo Sandoval, Michael and Randy Brecker, Mike Stern and Bill Frisell.

On his new CD, Lumpy Jazz , Berlin offers some fresh grooves that add a modern element to the traditional, straight-ahead style. This point is punctuated by the second track, "My Happy Kids," a lively tune that features Berlin's wide-ranging bass skills and a slap-happy piano lead by Richard Drexler, who doubles on upright bass. The song is a tribute to Berlin's sons, Jason and Sean, who are shown in a liner photo. Jason tries to look serious, but is betrayed by the cartoonish hat he's wearing. Sean makes no such pretense, holding a water pistol to his brother's head while aiming another toy weapon toward the ceiling. "My Happy Kids" captures this mood with style.

Lumpy Jazz deviates only slightly from the standard acoustic trio format. It's a formula that works. While we still get the traditional elements of acoustic jazz, we have the additional presence of electric funk—particularly when Berlin gets down and dirty on the bluesy "Almost Dawn," which features Berlin in an extended solo that is as captivating as it is electric.

On the uniquely titled "Have You Met Mischpucha," Berlin and his sidemen offer a different spin on the term "double bass." With Danny Gottlieb setting the pace on drums and Richard Drexler on acoustic bass, Berlin goes to town on the electric. The trio is tight, each musician complementing the others, and no one is overpowered by the soloist. The album reaches its energetic peak with "Everybody Gets Old (If They Have the Time)," a light-speed excursion that takes off from the launching note and doesn't slow down until the very end. If you're driving while playing this tune, you might want to pull over and wait it out. Automobiles have a tendency to accelerate without the driver's knowledge.

Throughout this recording, Berlin is in the zone. His speed, accuracy and range put him in a class with jazz's most proficient electric bassists: Pastorius, Scott Ambush, Jimmy Haslip and Marcus Miller, to name a few. Lumpy Jazz is aptly named, turning the concept of the jazz trio on its side, upside down and shakes it up—giving tradition a few lumps, if you will.

Track Listing: Brooklyn Uncompromised; My Happy Kids; Lien on Me; A Mensch Among Unmentionables; Almost Dawn; Have You Met Mischpucha; Toot's Suite; Everyone Gets Old (If They Have the Time); Intermezzo in A Major Opus 118 No. 2

Personnel: Jeff Berlin: bass' Danny Gottlieb: drums, percussion; Richard Drexler: piano, keyboards, upright bass; Toots Thielmans: harmonica (7).

Title: Lumpy Jazz | Year Released: 2004 | Record Label: M.A.J. Records

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