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David Berkman Quartet

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DAVID BERKMAN QUARTET

No one can accuse David Berkman of slacking: the pianist's two albums, Handmade and the forthcoming Communication Theory (both on Palmetto), contain 23 of his own painstakingly crafted compositions. His tunes combine straightforward melodies with deceptively tricky harmonies--delighting the musically savvy without chasing away the weekend listener--and his arrangements use the modest resources of a two- or three-horn combo to create inviting textures and unexpected episodes. A few critics honored his 1998 debut on their year's-best lists, to the puzzlement of most of the country's jazz fans: at that point Berkman had worked mostly as a sideman, for Matt Wilson and Cecil McBee, and he'd attracted little attention outside New York. But his appearance in Chicago last April, one of the most satisfying and substantial shows of the year, proved he deserved that attention--and his second album proves the critics' faith was well placed. Picking up where Handmade left off, Berkman has toughened some of his melodies, making them more angular, and all of Communication Theory has a more visceral, aggressive sound, due in part to the three saxes jostling on its front line. The new songs use the horns' overlapping timbres to create a dynamic, intimate conversation, and the musicians clearly find the structures exciting and conducive to improvisation. That's a hallmark of Berkman's compositions: like those of his spiritual forebears, hard boppers Herbie Nichols and Elmo Hope, they have a lovely architecture that can entice even the most jaded player into furnishing an equally well wrought solo. His quartet in Chicago features drummer Gerald Cleaver and two musicians from Communication Theory--full-toned, rock-steady bassist Ugonna Okegwo, best known from Jacky Terrasson's trio, and intense saxist Chris Cheek. I'll miss the other two horns, but I suspect the album's saxual tension will be the only thing lacking. Friday, 9 PM, and Saturday, 8 PM, Green Mill, 4802 N. Broadway; 773-878-5552. Berkman will also give a free in-store solo concert Saturday at 1 PM at Jazz Record Mart, 444 N. Wabash; 312-222-1467.

NEIL TESSER

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