Pianist Shelly Berg's career as a professional musician stretches back for 40 years. He began playing professionally in his early teens and has since been a solo performer, a bandleader, arranger and accompanist. In 2007 he became Dean of the Phillip and Patricia Frost School of Music, University of Miami. Despite this long and varied career, The Nearness Of You is his first solo CD. Berg takes on production duties in addition to performing and arranging, to create a fine set of interpretations of familiar tunes. One of the few things Berg isn't directly responsible for is the writing of the sleeve notes, which are by All About Jazz contributor, Dr. Judith Schlesinger.
Berg has worked with a disparate array of musicians, including rock band Kiss, blues singer and guitarist Bonnie Raitt, and singer-songwriter Richard Marx. However, he has chosen not to experiment with jazz versions of rock or pop songs on this first solo release, preferring instead to draw on a more typical jazz repertoire. The nine tracks include Dizzy Gillespie's "Con Alma," as well as standards such as Rodgers and Hart's "Where or When," and Washington and Carmichael's "The Nearness of You." Berg also includes two medleys showcasing three tunes each from the musicals My Fair Lady and Guys and Dolls. Each medley lasts well over eight minutes, and it's to Berg's credit that his playing retains its freshness throughout, although "I've Never Been in Love Before," the middle piece in the Guys and Dolls medley, lacks, perhaps, the invention of the other tunes.
The sound is exceptionally good. The piano is a German Steinway, "more colorful than the American Steinway" according to Berg, and the venue for the recording was the Gusman Concert Hall of the Frost School. The quality of the instrument, the hall's acoustics and the talents of engineer Paul Griffith and piano technician Paul Bruno come together to ensure that Berg's playing is presented to the best possible effect. Every note is crystal clear, whether Berg is playing slow ballads such as "The Nearness of You" or faster, up-tempo, show tunes. There are no surprises on this CD, but familiarity is often a comfortable feeling and Berg's piano style is both accessible and warm.
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