This is six of one, half a dozen full of colors. Leading an augmented sextet stacked with familiars, pianist David Berkman focuses on expanding the inner workings in his writing while, at times, setting his sights on the outer reaches. To a certain extent, this album plays as a logical next step after 2015’s Old Friends and New Friends. But it’s hardly predictable in its choice of pathways. A variable blend of focus and freedom sees to that.
With the well-oiled rhythm section of Berkman, bassist Chris Lightcap, and drummer Kenneth Salters meeting a covey of individualistic horns, a lot was bound to happen. Often one to play with permutations, Berkman bets and builds on the art of potentiality, winning big in the process. With his “Blowing Smoke” opener he sets the tenors of Tim Armacost and Dayna Stephens loose to have some good-swinging fun. For the scintillating followup, “Cynical Episode,” he features Stephens on EWI, Adam Kolker on bass clarinet, and Billy Drewes on alto saxophone, also leaving some room on the way out for percussionist Rogerio Boccato. And with the “Rain Rain” closer he spotlights capering clarinets—B-flat for Drewes, bass again for Kolker—before showcasing Lightcap’s probing presence. All the while, Berkman is right there pointing the way as support system and soloist.
Other highlights in the mix include “Sincerely,” a ballad feature for Armacost and Drewes; “Three and a Half Minutes,” in which Berkman roams with rhythmic support before Kolker and Stephens twist together; and “Shitamachi,” a number encouraging both drive and abstract thought to flourish. Berkman proves astute with both pen and piano. He remains a woefully underrated talent.