The Path Here, pianist Greg Burk's fifth release for the adventurous 482 Music label, finds the Rome-based American expatriate revisiting and reinterpreting some of the most engaging compositions of his youthful career, aided by old friends Takayuki Kato (bass) and Gerald Cleaver (drums). Previously heard together with tenor saxophonist Jerry Bergonzi on Burk's 2004 quartet release Carpe Momentum (Soul Note), Robinson and Cleaver's shared history as the pianist's preferred accompanists dates back almost two decades; Burk met Robinson in 1989 while studying at UMASS, and has performed regularly with Cleaver since 1992.
The veteran trio's congenial interplay is palpable from the first notes of the rousing opener "Song for IAIA," a buoyant swinger that subtly evokes the gospelized tunefulness of Keith Jarrett's 1970s material. Revealing a singular aesthetic sensibility, Burk's probing ruminations juxtapose rapturous virtuosity and lyrical restraint, creating a cohesive, harmonically sophisticated style that veers from the bristling polyphonic clusters of "BC" to the ambling euphony of "Serenity's Distant Dawn." At his most animated, he unleashes circuitous figures that dart over the rhythm section's brisk tempo, as on the boppish "Blues in O," and infuses contrapuntal work-outs like "Look to the Asteroid" with two-handed Bachian invention. At his most reflective he plies rubato ballads such as "Lost Time/Tonos" with melodious deportment and supple finesse, evoking lessons learned from his former teacher, Paul Bley. The latter tune demonstrates the emotional depth of Burk's artistry through pensive minor key motifs and stirring romantic flourishes, including cascading arpeggios that dance gingerly amid Robinson's forlorn arco drones and Cleaver's atmospheric cymbal washes.
Drawing on their years performing together, Robinson and Cleaver bring a virtually telepathic responsiveness to their studied rapport, whether careening through the punchy hard bop of "I Left My Gun in Detroit" or providing pointillist accents to the impressionistic tone poem "Forward Leaping." Even while sketching in the melodic contours of a folksy meditation like "Child's Dance" using only washint (wooden flute), thumb piano and percussion, the trio transcends the harmonic limitations of a primitive palette with nuanced three-way exchanges that resonate with exotic textural detail. Bolstered by Robinson and Cleaver's stalwart contributions, The Path Here charts a compelling course through Burk's most mature and resilient work, resounding with ebullient themes, elegant harmonies and elastic rhythmsmaking this one his most appealing recordings.
Song for IAIA; Look to the Asteroid; Winter Always Ending; Blues in O; Child's Dance; Lost Time/Tonos; BC; Forward Leaping; Serenity's Distant Dawn; Ropes; I Left My Gun in Detroit; Stars Shine Still.
Greg Burk: piano; washint; Jonathan Robinson: bass, thumb piano; Gerald Cleaver: drums, percussion.
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