Because Palmetto is an indie jazz label, chances are its solid catalog of artists will never be as well known as those with companies like Verve or Blue Note. This creates the challenge of getting some worthwhile players out into the mainsteam of traditional jazz, competing with limited resources but with at least the confidence that their roster is every bit as appealing. Berkman is a solid, swinging pianist and leader of a trio featuring bassist Ugonna Okegwo (bass) and Brian Blade (drums), enhanced by Chris Cheek's tenor sax, Dick Oatts' alto and flute, and labelmate Sam Newsome's soprano. The music was made possible in part by a Chamber Music America new works creation and presentation grant, and it's no surprise that there is a subtle classical elegance at work in the tone of some of these well-arranged, no-frills pieces. "Leaving Home" is a mournful meditation featuring a wistful, often breathy horn over subtle low-register chords by the leader. "Creepy" features seamless interaction between an ethereal multi-horn melody and Berkman's subtle tones over a brooding bassline. "Unchained Harmony" takes a more lighthearted approach, mixing high soprano tones and low tenor swirls over a jumpy groove; it gets a little longwinded and experimental, but its quirkiness could also be called adventurous. "Tangoed Web" is a clever, flute-driven bit of Latin spice, a bright contrast to some of the minor-chord action on the darker tunes. The emphasis on the horns throughout leaves listeners a bit shortchanged as to Berkman's full capabilities, but there's no question that he's chosen tunes that demonstrate a wide emotional range.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Jonathan Widran