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Jeff Berlin: Aneurythms

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There is very little doubt that Berlin ranks among the top bass players on the planet today. And in terms of sheer fretboard pyrotechnics, he may indeed be the best. His command of the 4-string bass is absolutely astounding, whether it’s laying down bubbling, syncopated funk grooves, effortlessly blowing horn-like single-note lines over a veritable labyrinth of chord changes, indulging in intricate, classically inspired counterpoint, chording pianistically on his instrument or skronking with the distortion pedal set on stun. Berlin flashes all of that mind-blowing technique on Aneurythms (titled Ace of Bass in its original Japanese incarnation). Fusion fanatics will eat this stuff up (and Berlin has attracted them in droves since his late ’70s days with the band Bruford, a potent vehicle for King Crimson drummer Bill Bruford and guitar god Allan Holdsworth). But this is more than just a bass clinic or another case of blatant chops grandstanding. Berlin melds his überchops into the context of some finely crafted, moving and meaningful music on this winning collection.

Produced by fellow bass monster Brian Bromberg, who also plays upright on two tracks, Aneurythms showcases Berlin’s mighty prowess on the 4-string bass (don’t ever ask him why he doesn’t play a 5-string) while showing the breadth of his expression as both player and composer. His classically influenced reading of “Ars Longa Vita Brevis” is on par with Jaco’s take on Bach’s “Chromatic Fantasy” while his penchant for rocking out in no uncertain terms is clearly documented on the driving, Allman Brothers-ish “Justibofidus,” which has him wailing frantically on a distortion-laced solo.

Berlin’s humorous character and love of puns comes across in several of the song titles, including “Saab Story,” “Lapp Dance,” “Auntie Social” and “A Mark You Remade,” the latter being a play on words of the great Weather Report ballad “A Remark You Made,” which Joe Zawinul composed with Jaco’s signature fretless bass in mind. But rather than play fretless on this moving ballad, Berlin unleashes his legato chops and slippery phrasing on his fretted bass. Another humorously titled original, “Don’t Be Happy! Worry!,” is appropriately dissonant and forboding while the aptly titled “Copland” carries the kind of Aaron Copland-esque heartland vibe that is also apparent in some of Pat Metheny’s early music.

Berlin is ably assisted throughout by Otmaro Ruiz on synthesizer, pianist Richard Drexler and guitarist Gannin Arnold, who turns in some fiery fuzoid solos on “Justibofidus” and “Porky & Beans.” And the great drummer Vinnie Colaiuta holds it all together in inimitably slamming fashion. Mssrs. Marcus Miller, Victor Bailey, Victor Wooten and others may be exceptionally bad, but some bass fans might be willing to give Berlin the crown after this one.