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Bob Berg: Remembering Bob Berg

John Kelman By

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When saxophonist Bob Berg was tragically killed in December, 2002 at the age of 51, he'd just recorded two projects that would demonstrate just how passionate and far-reaching a contemporary post bop player he was. On one hand, trumpeter Eddie Henderson's So What (Eighty-Eights, 2003) was built on the kind of atmospheric and open-ended approach of Miles Davis' mid-1960s quintet with Wayne Shorter—a seminal influence on Berg. On the other hand, on vibraphonist Joe Locke's 4 Walls of Freedom (Sirocco Jazz, 2003), the quartet fashioned its own distinctive, propulsive and energetic post bop around Locke's own writing, instead of reinterpreting well-heeled material by Monk, Shorter, and others.

Often found in the same musical circles, but in the shadow of contemporary Michael Brecker, Berg's position sometimes diminished just how vital a player he was in his own right. Maybe it was a matter of timing—Brecker virtually leapt onto the scene in the early 1970s as a gun for hire with a variety of pop artists, was picked up by Billy Cobham, and garnered significant acclaim with the Brecker Brothers, beginning in 1975.

Berg, on the other hand, spent considerably longer time in apprenticeship, working with Horace Silver and Cedar Walton in the 1970s and moving on to a high-profile gig with Miles Davis in the early 1980s. He recorded a couple of albums under his own name during those years, but it wasn't until 1987's Short Stories—the first in a series of releases for Denon—that he emerged as a leader in his own right, also touring extensively with the co-led Mike Stern/Bob Berg band over the next few years.

Remembering Bob Berg collects nine choice tracks from his five Denon albums from 1987-92, as well as two from his more mainstream releases on Chick Corea's Stretch label from 1993 and 1997, representing his final two as a leader. The impeccably sequenced 70-minute compilation demonstrates what anyone who's worked with Berg or heard him perform knows: Berg was a powerful and fiercely committed player who always gave his all, bringing his rich command of the jazz vernacular to every musical situation.

While the electrified energy and furious chops of "Friday Night at the Cadillac Club, the altered blues of "Snakes, and the modal burn of "Silverado imply a kind of fusion sensibility that comes in no small part from Mike Stern's heavy metal bebop guitar, Berg's writing style favoured a melodicism often missing from contemporary fusioneers. "In the Shadows is serious funk, with erstwhile drummer Dennis Chambers delivering a deeply visceral groove, while the aptly titled "Kalimba and "Amazon put a contemporary jazz spin on two world views. The Bruce Hornsby-esque "Back Roads and Latin-informed "Travellin' Man represent the kind of material that was sure to get radio play before stations made the switch from contemporary to smooth jazz.

Through it all, Berg's solos combine clear virtuosity with vivid thematic construction. Eminently accessible without sacrificing integrity, Remembering Bob Berg serves as a bittersweet reminder of a loss that, sadly, is greater than many truly realize.


Track Listing: Friday Night at the Cadillac Club; In the Shadows (radio edit); Snakes; Kalimba; Sometime Ago; Back Roads; Travellin' Man; Amazon; Back Home; Silverado; All the Way.

Personnel: Bob Berg: tenor and soprano saxophone; with David Sanborn: alto saxophone (4); Don Grolnick: keyboards (1,3,4); Robby Kilgore: keyboards (1,3,4); Mike Stern: guitar (1-4,6-8,10); Will Lee: bass (1,3,4); Peter Erskine: drums (1,3,4); Jim Beard: keyboards (2,6-8,10); Lincoln Goines: bass (2,6,7,10); Dennis Chambers: drums (2,5-7 9,10); Ben Perowsky: drums (6,7,10); Dave Kikoski: piano and synthesizer (5,9,11); James Genus: bass (5,8); John Herington: guitar (8); Jeff Andrews: electric bass (9); Arto Tun

Title: Remembering Bob Berg | Year Released: 2005 | Record Label: Savoy Jazz

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