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David Berkman: Leaving Home

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Pianist Berkman follows his Communication Theory CD of two years ago with more in the same instrumentation and the same vein-modern mainstream jazz verging on 20th century classical chamber music. Again, Chris Cheek is the tenor saxophonist, Sam Newsome the soprano saxophonist. Dick Oatts replaces Steve Wilson on alto and flute. Ugonna Okegwo and Brian Blade return on bass and drums, respectively.

The chamber aspect of Berkman’s writing for three saxophones is particularly effective in the moodiness of “Aftermath” and the complexities of the intermittent counterpoint in “Knots.” Oatts’ brief unaccompanied alto solo on “Aftermath” is stunning for the contrast between his restrained presentation and the daring of the line he constructs from Berkman’s ensemble harmonic material. It is yet another instance of the completeness of this major musician. Cheek’s solo on “Knots” grows out of the melody as well as the chords. It has logic of development reminiscent of Oliver Nelson’s structured tenor solos. Newsome’s soprano soars on the same piece.

Berkman’s playing is balanced between emotion and technique. Much the same can be said of his writing, from the implied funk of the blueslike “Creepy” to the wit and rhythmic felicities of “Tangoed Web,” which ends disappointingly in an engineered fade, a failure of imagination in so imaginative a piece. The album concludes with its one composition not by Berkman, his loving solo on a single, slow chorus of Gershwin’s “Embraceable You,” the melody barely altered. For all of Berkman’s skill as a writer, the Gershwin is a reminder that it is a rare album of original compositions that cannot benefit from the inclusion of superior standards.