Karl Berger

Strangely Familiar

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Jazz legend Karl Berger is best known for his vibes and piano playing and for founding, with Ornette Coleman and Ingrid Sertso, the Creative Music Studio in Woodstock, NY, in 1972. He has also had a full career in the classical realm, earning a doctorate in musicology, serving as professor of composition at Frankfurt Hochschule, and as chair of the music department at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth. Strangely Familiar: 17 Miniatures for Piano Solo, written between 2005 and 2009, draws heavily on the free jazz tradition and on Coleman's style in particular. The miniatures, each between about two to four minutes long, are unified by an improvisatory style with an easy swing, a mood of quiet, often melancholy meditation, open harmonies, and sense of broad expansiveness. Many are similar in tone, if not in their musical language, to Satie's Gymnopédies. Berger's score leaves a great deal up to the performer and the minimal notation allows for the music to sound like free jazz. Sometimes he will write out only one hand and ask the player to improvise with the other, and ad libbing seems to be a frequent instruction. The score of the nearly three-minute long Miniature No. 2 that's printed in the booklet consists of only 11 partially notated measures, leaving it wide open for performers to put their personal stamp on the piece. Berger writes that the sparseness of the material is intentional, and he invites listeners to absorb what's there and fill in the open spaces with what he calls the natural Music Mind; it sounds like good advice for listening to this laid-back, meditative music. Tzadik's sound is clean and open with realistic ambience.

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