Brandon Bernstein

But Beautiful

Brandon Bernstein began studying guitar at age 14 and developed an immediate passion for music. Soon after that, he had no doubt he would devote his life to playing the guitar. At the age of 18, Bernstein was awarded scholarships to continue his study of jazz at Berklee School of Music. He would later complete degrees at Concordia University (in Montreal, Canada), the University of Louisville, and the University of Southern California where he received a doctorate in Jazz Performance at 28 years old.

As a musician, Bernstein has performed with a variety of well-known artists including: Gary Foster, Putter Smith, Mundell Lowe, Howard Alden, Ben Monder, Joe Labarbera, Kendall Kay, Larry Koonse, John Stowell, Wynton Marsalis, Delfeayo Marsalis, Jimmy Wyble, Matt Otto, Greg Leisz, Ambrose Akinmusire, Walter Smith, Mark Ferber, Eric Reed, Terrell Stafford, and Vic Juris. He studied with notable guitarists: Bruce Foreman, Ben Monder, Larry Koonse, and Roddy Ellias.

Currently, Bernstein is an adjunct professor at Pasadena City College, Cypress College and Chaffey College in Los Angeles where he teaches jazz guitar and lectures. He also co-authored a book of Kurt Rosenwinkel transcriptions for Mel Bay Publishing Co. and is a regular contributor for Just Jazz Guitar magazine.

Bernstein’s new release, But Beautiful, is a trio outing with Putter Smith on bass and Kendal Kay on drums. Bernstein focuses on standards that are well known to the guitar community, but his keen musical sense and the interaction of the trio results in highly welcomed and musical versions of these well-known songs. “That Old Feeling” starts the relaxed date with Bernstein’s warm acoustic toned guitar stating the melody with very relaxed chordal commentary around the phrases. Smith and Kendal provide a swinging two feel for Bernstein’s developing solo that keeps the melody clear throughout the improvised lines, again with very nice chordal fills. The rhythm flows to a quarter note swing feel for the peak of the solo and finds Bernstein playing some very intelligent voicings before moving into a double time single note feel. Bassist Putter Smith, who has worked with artists such as: Thelonious Monk, Art Blakey, Warne Marsh, Alan Broadbent, Bob Brookmeyer, Billy Eckstine, Diane Schuur, Lee Konitz, Jackie and Roy, Carmen McRae, Gary Foster, Art Farmer, Blue Mitchell, Art Pepper and Ray Charles, takes the solo role next. Smith’s lines are clear and swinging with his light vocals singing along with each phrase. Bernstein’s accompaniment is sensitive and well placed. Bernstein takes the melody out the same way he brought us in, relaxed and clear, setting the tone for the entire project. The trio has a nice ending to boot.

“You Go to My Head” is presented in a mid-up bossa nova feel with a nice intro that again finds Bernstein’s warm guitar tone conversing layers of chords and melodies. The melody is stated with a nice dance of chordal stabs beneath the clearly played single note lines. Kay’s brush work is very enjoyable and subtly interactive at all times to build Bernstein’s solo statement. Bernstein’s thematic development is very nice throughout his solo, taking the time to thoroughly develop each idea stated at the beginning of each phrase for a cohesive whole. Smith turns in another fine chorus on the bass and the melody is again presented in a nice combination of chordal stabs and louder single lines that create a moving multi-layered affect that is very effective.

Warne Marsh’s “Background Music” from the Tristano-inspired “Cool School" era and Powell’s “Celia” provides the projects mid-up swing selections. “Background Music” in presented with Bernstein’s single lines clearly conveying the melody over Smith’s driving bass lines. Bernstein takes his time to develop eighth note lines and chordal developments during each chorus, never letting things get frantic, but keeping the energy up and moving. Smith weaves in and out of Bernstein’s well played voice lead accompaniment. Kay takes a turn with a nice melodic drum solo and we are up for the recap.

Overall, But Beautiful is not just for guitar aficionados, it offers any appreciator of jazz that prefers beautiful melodies, lush arrangements and respective historical appreciation for the standards a welcomed opportunity for an enjoyable listen, Bernstein and his trio have put together a thoughtful and enjoyable set of jazz standards that go down easy and leave you satisfied for many hours, highly recommended.

Personnel: Brandon Bernstein: guitar; Putter Smith: bass; Kendall Kay: drums.

Tracks: That Old Feeling; Skylark; You Go to My Head; Nancy With the Laughing Face; I Should Care; Celia; My Old Flame; I’ll Be Seeing You; Background Music; But Beautiful.

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H. Allen Williams