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David Berkman: Communication Theory

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Although the disc begins somewhat jarringly, with the angular “Blues for Bluto,” played in two keys at once, it turns out to be a fine album of contemporary mainstream jazz, featuring some of the most formidable musicians in New York. It is hard to go wrong with Ugonna Okegwo and Brian Blade on bass and drums, respectively. They provide more than enough support and groove for Berkman’s emotionally charged piano chording and tensile single lines.

The updated bop harmony underlying Berkman’s 12 originals provides decent solo fodder for saxophonists Sam Newsome (soprano), Steve Wilson (alto and soprano) and Chris Cheek (tenor and soprano). The blend and intonation of the ensemble passages is excellent; take for example the sonorous chords on “Interesting, Perhaps, But Hardly Fascinating Rhythm,” a catchy tune previously recorded by tenor saxophonist Joel Frahm-with Berkman on piano-on Frahm’s solid, 1999 Palmetto debut, Sorry, No Decaf.

A Cleveland native, Berkman harbors serious ambitions as a jazz composer, even taking a stab at serial music on the title track. Time will tell if he can indeed lay claim to a share of Tadd Dameron’s legacy. Berkman has been commanding a lot of respect from his fellow musicians of late, and this CD tells why.