David Berkman Sextet - Six Of One

Label: Palmetto Records, 2019

Personnel – David Berkman: piano; Dayna Stephens: tenor saxophone, EWI; Adam Kolker: bass clarinet, soprano saxophone; Billy Drewes: alto saxophone, clarinet; Chris Lightcap: bass; Kenneth Salters: drums + guests Tim Armacost: tenor saxophone; Rogerio Boccato: percussion.

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With Six of One, pianist David Berkman presents a set of ten original compositions developed over the course of five years, inviting some influential guests to join his flexible sextet. He probes two-horn and three-horn configurations in which each individual contributes fluent and very much their own ideas to the written material.

A swinging vibrancy comes attached to both the opening tune, “Blowing Smoke”, which alludes to the Smoke Jazz Club and the NY jazz scene, and the lively “Kickstopper”. If the former is luxuriously orchestrated, finishing with a bouncy solo by saxist Dayna Stephens, the latter piece enchanted me with the positive energy that kept sprouting from the interaction and casual abandon of the soloists. The saxophone players (Adam Kolker on soprano, Billy Drewes on alto, and guest tenorist Tim Armacost) alternate and ultimately share bars with splendorous enthusiasm, while Berkman’s piano work draws tension through stride-like interjections and salient left-hand chordal fluxes.

Written as a response to the current political instability, “Cynical Episodes” has Kolker traveling a safe melodic path on the bass clarinet in the company of bassist Chris Lightcap, while the remaining horns dance around them in perfect counterpoint. Several soloists make their way through the harmonic progressions, but our attention goes to Stephens, who handles the EWI with know-how, and Brazilian percussionist Rogerio Bocatto, who concludes alone with rhythmic resolve.

Most of the engagement on “Three And a Half Minutes” stems from Berkman’s free activity and complemented with the extemporaneous alliance established between Kolker and Stephens. This same trio of soloists is featured on “Restoration”, whose smoothness and folk innuendo brings it closer to the crossover jazz genre. This tune has strong connotations with Tokyo, where Berkman lived for some time, but it's not the only one since “Shitamashi” was devised with the old part of that city in mind. Exuberance and freedom abound and the feel-good kind of vibe suggests a sophisticated harmonic/rhythmic palette. There’s something epic here and Kenneth Salters’ drumming skills are called into action to amplify that feeling.

Drewes reciprocates with a fine solo on the rhythmically daring “Billy”, a song written for and dedicated to him. He does it again on “Blue Poles”, the only previously recorded tune (it appears on the album Communication Theory) where he, Kolker, and the bandleader embark on a momentary crosstalk conversation, and “Rain Rain”, a waltz spiced by the clarinets, piano, and Chris Lightcap’s bass solo.

Without discontinuing the vitality of tradition, Berkman provides well-drafted music with honesty and touches of modernity. The musical qualities of his associates, for whom the music was specifically written, make everything a lot simpler.

Grade  B

Grade B

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Bowing Smoke ► 07 - Kickstopper ► 08 – Shitamashi