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Adam Berenson / Scott Barnum: Penumbra

Karl Ackermann By

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Not one to be tethered to genres or styles, pianist and composer Adam Berenson has been long at home as a jazz pianist, a classical composer, an electronics player or any permutation of those roles. His previous double-CD Lumen (Dream Play, 2014)—complete with two string quartets—was indeed a far-ranging collection of styles and genres that the composer positioned in the broad category of chamber music. With the duo release Penumbra, Berenson and bassist Scott Barnum take to yet another experimental path.

Barnum has performed and/or recorded with Dave Liebman, Tim Hagans, Bill Carrothers, Phil Grenadier to name just a few. Berenson and Barnum are long-time collaborators who had first recorded as an acoustic duo on Journey Through Space (Self-produced, 2007) and later on Jnana (Dream Play Records, 2010), a trio outing with percussionist Bill Marconi. Barnum contributed bass and live electronics to the Lumen project as well.

On his twentieth album Berenson shares the composing credits with Barnum and it is the eclectic mix that one would expect, based on past history. This applies to the instrumentation as much as the music itself. Along with the traditional piano, Berenson utilizes a Korg Triton workstation, a vintage Yamaha synthesizer, a classic Roland synthesizer and a Casio keyboard. In other words, he is a one-man band. Barnum—for his part—does double duty with bass and prepared bass, the latter putting out an array of unconventional sounds and extended techniques.

Each of the thirteen chronologically numbered tracks on Penumbra is prefixed by "Lekton...." The meaning of the word (condensed and paraphrased from Berenson's own explanation) is logical reasoning as distinctive from learned reasoning and that seems like a worthy approach for improvisers.

"Lekton 1" gives us Barnum's raw bow playing supplying both familiar and very different sounds. In contrast, Berenson's piano leaves plenty of open space between the sprinkling of notes and well placed chords. Prevalent in this piece—and "Lektons 2, 4 and 5"—are a form of unique sonic experimentation that doesn't preclude bits of melody. "Lekton 3" has the feeling of an intergalactic baroque piece as Berenson moves to his assortment of electronic instruments. There are several other pieces that have a more spacey element, including the beautiful "Lekton 10" with Barnum's deep acoustic double bass and Berenson approximating something between a harpsichord and a Rhodes. "Lekton 11" is reminiscent of Brian Eno's Lux (Warp, 2012), a trace of a melody floating in the either.

As a duo, Berenson and Barnum get the most out of their instruments without being calculatingly over the top. They may work in agreement, as on the tranquil "Lekton 12," or as foils as with "Lekton 8" where Berenson's lamenting piano meets the creaking effect of Barnum's bass. As with all of Berenson's recordings, there is a deep intelligence at work here that is best summed up by Berenson: "Music is always expressing something that can't be expressed in language."

Track Listing: Lekton 1-14.

Personnel: Adam Berenson: piano, Korg Triton Extreme, Yamaha SK20 Symphonic Ensemble, Roland SH101, Casio CDP-120; Scott Barnum: double bass and prepared double bass.

Title: Penumbra | Year Released: 2017 | Record Label: Dream Play Records

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