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Jeff Berlin: Taking Notes

A dazzlingly fleet-fingered bass virtuoso, Jeff Berlin capitalizes on the natural resonance of his instrument on the unexpected pleasure Taking Notes (Denon CY-18043; 56:42). Berlin shows a variety of bass-as-guitar applications, from the cool, horn-heady blues ensemble piece “Johnny Joker,” and lovely singing-toned resonance of “Sean En La Madrugada” to the heavy fusion fun of “Scarecrow Soup,” featuring distortion bass. The bassist’s arranging talents also shine through on the first non-sappy cover of Eric Clapton’s “Tears in Heaven.” Berlin plays it funky and bluesy over a shuffle beat, letting the harmonics and resonant tone of the bass set the tone. Equally impressive is an upbeat, inspirational take on John Lennon’s “Imagine,” which finds Berlin swinging on the melody, while the legendary Clare Fischer offers jazzy-bluesy keyboard accents. Anyone who has found the bass a “limited” instrument will change their mind after listening to any of Berlin’s tracks here-but for a showcase of pure interpretive skill, check out “Clinton Country,” a suite of American traditional songs. Berlin uses the whole instrument, playing harmony, rhythm and melody with the gentleness of an acoustic guitarist, but with the beautiful resonance of the bass adding a full, awe-struck quality.

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