317

Judith Berkson: Oylam

John Kelman By

Sign in to view read count
Judith Berkson: Oylam As renowned as Manfred Eicher is for his ability to scout out new talent deserving wider recognition, ECM's other regular (albeit less prolific) producer, Steve Lake, is equally worthy of similar consideration. Few others could have imagined the remarkable synchronicity of folk traditionalism and unfettered free play that came about when, after recruiting Robin Wililiamson for The seed-at-zero (2000), Lake pushed the British singer/songwriter into new territory by teaming him with Swedish multi-instrumentalist Ale Möller, and free improvisers Barre Phillips and Mat Maneri for The Iron Stone (2007). It's too early to tell if bringing Brooklyn-based singer/keyboardist/composer Judith Berkson into the ECM fold for Oylam will ultimately yield similar collaborative fruit, but this set of quirky originals, classical reworks, jazz standards, Jewish cantorial music and Yiddish folk songs is as unique, unconventional and compelling a solo effort as any the label has released in recent years.



Berkson's second disc after her 2008 debut, Lu-Lu (Peacock Recordings), the overall concept may be similar—music for voice, accompanied in unorthodox fashion on electric piano or organ (acoustic piano is only used on six of Oylam's fourteen songs). But Berkson's inclusion of just two Jewish song, amongst an original-heavy repertoire that reflect her past work interpreting the microtonal art songs of the late Joe Maneri, creates a pervasive, subtle but unequivocally moving spirituality throughout.



Berkson's instrumental chops are as broad as her source material, evoking abstruse majesty on the two versions of her own "Goodbye Friend" that bookend the disc—distantly hinting at the darker side of Erik Satie's compositional economy—while delivering a surprising reading of "All of You" that clarifies her intimacy with the jazz vernacular, even as she prismatically filters its iconic melody in ways that composer Cole Porter could never have envisaged. Her version of George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin's "They Can't Take That Away From Me" swings with requisite credibility, even as Berkson chooses, in an unusual move, to accompany herself on electric piano.



Berkson possesses a voice as pliant as the demands of the music, singing with cantorial reverence in an interpretation of the liturgical text "Ahavas Olam" ("Everlasting Love")— accompanied, curiously, by Hammond organ—and layering her vocals to build three-part harmony on the haunting, a capella "Hulyet, Hulyet." Elsewhere, she demonstrates an incredible ability to manage the non-melismatic but technically demanding intervals and precisely articulated chromaticism of original songs like "Inside Good Times," winding her way through oblique melodies that, were it not for the clear evidence otherwise, would be hard-pressed to fall into the category of "singable." There's beauty to be found, too, in particular Berkson's lyric interpretation of Franz Schubert's "Der Leiermann," even as the subject matter—as on most of Oylam—leans to the bleak, the stark, and the brooding.

ECM's affinity for singers is exceedingly select, but Oylam introduces, to a broader international audience, a singer worthy of inclusion in the small but significant club that already includes Norma Winstone, Sidsel Endresen and Susanne Abbuehl; distinct voices all, and ones who, like Berkson, prefer the road less traveled to the familiar and predictable path.


Track Listing: Goodbye Friend No 1; Brute; Inside Good Times; Clives; All Of You; Mi Re Do; Ahavas Oylam; Little Arrows; Der Leiermann; Fallen Innocent Wandering Thieves; They Can't Take That Away From Me; Burnt; Hulyet, Hulyet; Goodbye Friend No 2.

Personnel: Judith Berkson: voice, piano, Wurlitzer and Rhodes pianos, Hammond organ.

Year Released: 2010 | Record Label: ECM Records | Style: Free Improv/Avant-Garde


Shop

More Articles

Read A Dark and Stormy Day CD/LP/Track Review A Dark and Stormy Day
by Dave Wayne
Published: March 1, 2017
Read Pocono Git-Down CD/LP/Track Review Pocono Git-Down
by Edward Blanco
Published: March 1, 2017
Read Rímur CD/LP/Track Review Rímur
by Henning Bolte
Published: March 1, 2017
Read Schönbrunn CD/LP/Track Review Schönbrunn
by Tyran Grillo
Published: March 1, 2017
Read Northern Adventures CD/LP/Track Review Northern Adventures
by Jack Bowers
Published: February 28, 2017
Read Collider CD/LP/Track Review Collider
by John Sharpe
Published: February 28, 2017
Read "Shawn Maxwell's New Tomorrow" CD/LP/Track Review Shawn Maxwell's New Tomorrow
by Dan McClenaghan
Published: September 16, 2016
Read "The Harry Warren Song Book" CD/LP/Track Review The Harry Warren Song Book
by Roger Farbey
Published: January 31, 2017
Read "The Intergalactic Thing" CD/LP/Track Review The Intergalactic Thing
by Mark Corroto
Published: June 1, 2016
Read "Wee +3" CD/LP/Track Review Wee +3
by Dan Bilawsky
Published: December 7, 2016
Read "Koan" CD/LP/Track Review Koan
by Mark Corroto
Published: August 12, 2016
Read "New Spring - Live At The Village Vanguard" CD/LP/Track Review New Spring - Live At The Village Vanguard
by Budd Kopman
Published: November 8, 2016

Post a comment

comments powered by Disqus

Sponsor: Jazz Near You | GET IT  

Support our sponsor

Support All About Jazz's Future

We need your help and we have a deal. Contribute $20 and we'll hide the six Google ads that appear on every page for a full year!

Buy it!