Peter Bernstein: What Comes Next

Paul Rauch By

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Peter Bernstein: What Comes Next
In a world defined by uncertainty, the global jazz community saw an impressive number of important new recordings released during the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020. Most were recorded before the shutdown, and released thereafter. Guitarist Peter Bernstein hit Sear Studios in New York in June 2020, months after the onset of the pandemic, looking for inspiration. He had a hunch that things could work out. Just before the stay-at-home order hit, Bernstein had played with pianist Sullivan Fortner and drummer Joe Farnsworth at the Village Vanguard. He had a long history with bassist Peter Washington.

Bernstein's hunch was correct, with What Comes Next (Smoke Sessions, 2020) bearing witness to that. As one might expect, the collection of tunes is a straight ahead romp, with a spirit of true adventurism. There is a marvelous chemistry which provides a flowing and moving sense of dynamics. Fortner and Bernstein, both of whom have carried the load fronting their own trios, have a textural connection harmonically, with each contributing just enough to make it work. They could find no better partners for this session than Washington and Farnsworth. After months of seclusion at home, the four found inspiration and fellowship in once again playing with familiar faces in the studio.

Bernstein had previously recorded the opener, "Simple as That," on his album Heart's Content (Criss Cross, 2003). The strength of the rhythm section takes this version out of the gate, with Bernstein offering bold strokes and colorful voicings. Farnworth and Fortner blend their sounds together so well that Bernstein seems to find an extra gear while soloing. Bernstein alludes to the circumstances of current times with the title track. Fortner solos with a sound which embraces both tradition and modernism, a counterweight to Bernstein's sizzling single note runs. "Empty Streets" was the first tune the guitarist composed during the shutdown. Bernstein and Fortner produce a lyrical narrative which captures the strange quiet of quarantine in New York City. What is striking here is Bernstein's rare talent for playing with other musicians with strong personal identities, as is the case here with Fortner. As he has done with Larry Goldings, Brad Mehldau, and a bevy of others, the guitarist brings a vibe to the session which invites inspired conversation.

"Blood Wolf Moon Blues" celebrates the memory of Jimmy Cobb's 90th birthday, as well the night of the "blood wolf moon," when the moon appears as a red marble in the night sky. A slow-groove blues, the tune swings easy with a big beat, as Cobb would approve. As one might expect on the bandstand at the end of a long evening, the quartet finds the collective spirit that embraces this entire recording. The foursome pushes forward one more time for a spirited run at "Newark News," a Sonny Rollins tune the tenor master never recorded. Bernstein learned the tune from Rollins himself, and played it with him several times. The tune employs a strong calypso rhythm, completing the musical landscape of this recording in an upbeat manner. It serves as an offering of hope for what is to come.

For Bernstein, What Comes Next represents an opportunity to create with musicians he loves, something all of us are less likely to take for granted going forward. He takes advantage of the opportunity in a complete sense. For listeners, the recording represents an opportunity to experience the strength of courage, curiosity, intuition, and ardent melodicism in a time when those strengths are needed most.

Track Listing

Simple As That; What Comes Next; Empty Streets; Harbor No Illusions; Dance In Your Blood; We'll Be Together Again; Con Alma; Bolld Wolf Moon Blues; Newark News


Peter Bernstein: guitar; Sullivan Fortner: piano; Peter Washington: bass; Joe Farnsworth: drums.

Album information

Title: What Comes Next | Year Released: 2020 | Record Label: Smoke Sessions Records

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