David Berkman / David Berkman Quartet

Live at Smoke

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David Berkman is one of those quietly progressing modern jazz pianists who never tops the critics or listeners polls, yet always delivers sterling performances. His sound is not immediately identifiable, yet he is easily recognized as a highly talented and evolved keyboardist who rarely holds back or cops signature devices from any random jazz great. Berkman has performed numerous times at the New York City nightspot Smoke, and decided to bring his quartet in for two nights in 2006 to record favorite tunes from his repertoire. The band is a stellar grouping with the ever rising star drummer Ted Poor, workingman's bassist Ed Howard, and saxophonist Jimmy Greene, who is becoming a favorite of many large and small ensembles, as well as those who favor excellent current-day mainstream and neo-bop jazz. There's a playfulness to the music via the back and forth chatter between Berkman and Greene in "Weird Knack" before they settle into a darker groove, while "The Mayor of Smoke," for veteran bassist Ugonna Okegwo, sports a more implied melody in a slower, funky blues induced by Howard's stewing lines. The loping, bluesy slider along unison lines from the saxophonist and pianist during "Simple Pleasures" prompts Berkman into a long and tastefully constructed solo, while the steadily swinging "Hidden Fondness" with more piano from the leader is a not-so-thinly-veiled deviation of the standard "Secret Love." Greene switches to soprano sax for the gospel-tinged, spare, basic, cute melody of "Carroll Street Pop Tune," and lays out as the trio plays the classic Benny Golson's tune popularized by Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers "Along Came Betty," with Berkman stretching and streamlining the melody on his own, then with his rhythm mates. There's very little here in terms of abject complex music, but it is the inventiveness within the style of these players that makes you want to listen to this more than once. It's a credible, at times invigorating modern mainstream jazz music played by the capable Berkman and his group, one that leaves you wanting much more.

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