David Berkman Quartet | Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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David Berkman Quartet




Pianist David Berkman has called New York home for 15 years, so a healthy collection of that city's top-name musicians has heard his intelligently conceived, cleanly crafted, and beautifully balanced jazz. Some of them, including Joe Lovano, Matt Wilson, Tom Harrell, Ray Drummond, and Cecil McBee (with whom he appeared on the 1997 CD Unspoken), have seen fit to hire him, too. But until Berkman released his debut as a leader, last year's Handmade (Palmetto), most of the nation had no idea what he could do. As a player, Berkman blends his influences (Tommy Flanagan, Herbie Hancock, Keith Jarrett) without bending to them, but his real strength is his writing. He reminds me of lesser-known bebop pianists Herbie Nichols and Elmo Hope, who in the late 50s wrote extremely strong music, provoking soloists with imaginative structures, distinctive melodies, and unexpected interior twists. It took the jazz referees 30 years to catch up with their work, but Berkman's already created a bit of a buzz: Handmade landed on several year's best lists. Berkman composed all but one of the songs on the album, the exception being Ellington's "Take the Coltrane," and he even distinguishes his use of that tune by assigning the opening theme statement to Brian Blade--the drummer, fer Chrissake. And his own solo, which follows, jumps like Jordan. From New York Berkman will bring John Carlson, who came through town several times as the lead trumpeter with the Either/Orchestra in the late 80s and early 90s; bassist Larry Kohut and drummer Eric Montzka, two Chicagoans adept at adapting to unfamiliar music, round out the quartet. Friday, 9 PM, Green Mill, 4802 N. Broadway; 773-878-5552. NEIL TESSER

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): uncredited photo.

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