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Peter Bernstein Trio: Live at Smoke

Tom Greenland By

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Peter Bernstein Trio
Live at Smoke
Mel Bay Records
2005

Peter Bernstein is the ultimate guitar anti-hero. Without the usual prestidigitation and pyrotechnics of his ilk, without an incessant impulse to chart new stylistic frontiers, Bernstein is nevertheless a guitarist's guitarist and a musician's musician. On his first DVD release, Peter Bernstein Trio: Live at Smoke, he makes a convincing case that less can be more, that old can be new.

Bernstein's trio, featuring Larry Goldings on organ and Bill Stewart on drums, has been playing together since the late '80s, back when Smoke was Augie's. In the ensuing years, these old jam-mates have developed a close camaraderie, honing a collective sound of subliminal subtlety, like an old married couple finishing each other's sentences. In this edited "set" of medium tempo standards and originals, the trio establishes a relaxed, unhurried pace.

Bernstein is impeccable throughout, exhibiting a natural blues sensibility, a gift for melody, a beautiful touch, and a mature, no-note-before-its-time restraint. His renderings of "Spring is Here and "I Should Care are gorgeous, and his solo on "Bobblehead, a gravy-train boogaloo, is a model of well-crafted succinctness. Bernstein and Goldings work particularly well together, the guitarist's mid-rangy chords complementing the organist's left-hand bass and high-range chordal colorings. Unfortunately, a DVD doesn't duplicate the dynamic range of a Hammond B3, or the bodily impact of Leslie speakers at full tremolo, but Paul Stache's in-house recording is excellent, with clear separation of the instruments.

The real set-stealer here, however, is Bill Stewart. A ticking time-bomb of polyrhythmic possibilities, the drummer seems to be watching himself play, reacting with surprise and amusement, as if the music is bubbling up from somewhere inside and his body is hanging on for the ride. Stewart's solos on "Jive Coffee (a 5/4 jazz "waltz"), on "Bobblehead , and especially on Golding's "Acrobat, are spontaneous and charismatic combustions, eliciting enthusiastic response from the Smoke crowd.

On Live at Smoke, Bernstein & Co. demonstrate the effectiveness of understatement, the power of group chemistry, and the agelessness of good time, tone, and taste.


Personnel: Peter Bernstein: guitar; Larry Goldings: organ; Bill Stewart: drums.

Track Listing: Dragonfly; Jive Coffee; Spring is Here; Puttin' on the Ritz; Bobblehead; I Should Care; The Acrobat; Night Mist Blues. Total time: 89 minutes.

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