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Josh Berman: Old Idea

Nic Jones By

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If it really is about old ideas, as the title of this album by cornetist Josh Berman states, then the ones expressed here are done so in collective tongues fresh enough to be transformative, from mouths breathing new life into them. Berman has been a stalwart of the Chicago improvised music community for awhile now, and he brings his experience to bear on his first date as a leader, in a manner that others would do well to observe.

This quintet sets out of its stall through individuality of expression, but what really sets the seal on the proceedings is the distinction of Berman's compositions, which on the surface seem like the most complex sketches. "Nori" is a working example of how Berman appreciates the importance of keeping out of his fellow musicians' way. The piece is essentially episodic, but still hangs together as a coherent whole. There's a kind of slightly unnerving lushness to Jason Adasiewicz's vibraphone playing, which ensures he betrays no overt influence in his work; and the long delay he sometimes deploys is at odds with both Berman's cornet work, and that of tenor saxophonist Keefe Jackson.

It might be said that Jackson's hard yet slightly pinched tone is as good as the leader's. On the Eric Dolphy-like lope of "Let's Pretend," he brings it to bear via measured, unhurried phrasing over drummer Nori Tanaka's flirtation with the parade ground. Jackson's sense of economy allows the silence to play an integral part in the music's development. By contrast, Adasiewicz gets a little rhapsodic before changing course in mid-solo, opting for fractured yet still measured phrasing over a quickening pulse.

It would be damning Berman with faint praise to say that his cornet playing contains no overt traces of Don Cherry. The fact that it's true tells only part of the story. In his way of breaking off a phrase—like a man who starts in on saying something, but realizes, mid-flow, that the right words have eluded him—Berman has something in common with Wild Bill Davison, a Chicago scion of considerably older vintage and musical persuasion. On "Almost Late," he betrays a strain of lyricism entirely his own, and when he and Jackson come together unaccompanied, it's clear that they speak a common language.

It's a vernacular in which the whole band is conversant as well. Berman evidently hasn't been hasty in putting together his debut date as a leader; but in this case, it's pretty obvious that patience is not only its own reward, but also a good thing for anyone who values improvised music as a means for creative and rewarding expression.


Track Listing: On Account of a Hat; Next Year A; Let's Pretend; Nori; Next Year B; Almost Late; What Can?; Db; Next Year C.

Personnel: Josh Berman: cornet; Keefe Jackson: tenor saxophone; Jason Adasiewicz: vibraphone; Anton Hatwich: bass; Nori Tanaka: drums.

Title: Old Idea | Year Released: 2009 | Record Label: Delmark Records

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