Like 2010’s High Standards, Low Standards places electric bass hero Jeff Berlin in the company of Richard Drexler, who alternates between acoustic standup bass and piano, and a drummer, this time Mike Clark (replacing Danny Gottlieb). As on the previous outing, Berlin and company give voice to material from a variety of composers, among them Wayne Shorter (three tracks), Carla Bley, Steve Swallow and Pat Metheny/Lyle Mays.
If the idea behind this set and its predecessor is to prove that Berlin and a group of equals can be just as impressive within non-original compositions as when fleshing out his own material, consider it a success: These three musicians are so over-the-top talented that there’s never any question they’re going to leave a listener slack-jawed.
Most remarkable, though, are the pianoless bass vs. bass sections, which find Berlin and Drexler dashing melodic and harmonic circles around each other so exhaustively that the lack of a true melody instrument isn’t missed: In both Shorter’s “E.S.P.” and Bill Evans’ “Very Early” the pair swings with force and determination, and when Drexler does finally move over to the piano stool midway through it’s nearly a letdown; what was an out-of-the-box bass race has now become just another piano trio track. Benny Golson’s “Whisper Not” is better for its lack of piano. It’s not that Drexler isn’t an excellent pianist but rather that the absence of one puts Berlin in the lead role and makes Low Standards something other than a display of virtuosity.