Albert Beger

Evolving Silence Vol. 1
Earsay Jazz ES097

Albert Beger
Evolving Silence Vol. 2
Earsay Jazz ES091

Sometimes, it appears, musicians themselves can’t select their own best work

At least that’s the feeling you have listening to the two volumes of Evolving Silence recorded in the same session but released one year apart. Memorializing the initial meeting in a Tel Aviv studio by Israeli saxophonist/flautist Albert Beger and arguably improviser music’s most accomplished rhythm section – New York bassist William Parker and Chicago drummer Hamid Drake – Vol. 1 is very fine indeed. But Vol. 2 is exceptional, leading to the question of why it wasn’t released first.

Throughout Turkish-born Beger, 47, who has lived in Israel since he was three, successfully adapts his distinctive approach to improvisation to the input of a world-class rhythm section. Similarly, the Americans so sympathetically pick up on the nuances of the reedist’s playing that you would think that they came of age near the Red Sea rather than the East River or Lake Michigan. Avoiding American musical xenophobia, Drake and Parker aid Beger in intensifying the musical currents already on tap.

Someone who apprenticed in rock bands, attended Boston’s Berklee College, and who now teaches jazz improvisation at the University of Haifa, Beger has internalized both jazz education’s formalism and rock-improv energy. Recording since 1995, the saxophonist has worked with some of the Jewish State’s most accomplished free players including drummer Hagai Fershtman and bassist Jean Claude Jones. Yet Both Evolving Silences show him as a more adroit player than on his more meditative earlier CDs.

If Beger has one weakness, it’s that John Coltrane’s long shadow looms over his tenor saxophone playing almost as much as Hamas and Likud intransigence does over a potential Middle Eastern peace settlement. His Trane schedule however, is tempered with a flair that mutates local materials to his own ends.

Beger’s alto flute duo with Parker on Vol. 1, for instance, melds Arabic-sounding textures, a sweet Cabaletta-like theme and avant key clicks and irregular pitches to the bassist’s steady time-keeping. Meanwhile the trio tour-de-force on his “Skies of Israel” composition opens with what sounds like Parker bowing variations on “Hatikvah”, the Israeli national anthem.

Precisely because there’s no Trane antecedent, Beger sounds most confident and comfortable in his two alto flute duos with Parker’s bass. However “Duo #3” on Vol. 2 trumps the first. Here his spitty fripple tones plus vocalization turns to bravura pitchsliding that contrapuntally converges with Parker’s slurred fingering abrasions in broken octave expansion. As the bassist bluntly rings the changes, the flautist sounds as if he’s masticating, then swallowing his instrument whole.

Another standout on Vol. 1 is “Rain Is Coming” featuring the New Yorker strumming folksy patterns with his hunter’s harp. Coloring Beger’s composition with steadying rhythmic frailing, Parker hooks up with Drake’s percussive rattle and friction to toughen the composer’s moderato balladic line. Climax and resolution is reached as Beger harmonizes his pitch-vibrated note clusters with maracas-like clattering from the percussionist and solid flat-picking from Parker.

Overall, Beger’s glossolalia, buzzy snorts and Woody Woodpecker-like split tones impress on Vol. 1. But those shrieked phrases evidentially need to be anchored to head recapitulation no matter how orgasmic. Ostensibly more relaxed on the second volume, his variant of Cosmic Energy Music reveals its individuality by expanding his harsh tongue stop and extending his intensity vibrato. Although still anchored to theme-variation-theme on the title tune, Parker’s resolute walking, as well as Drake’s power-driven ratamacues plus cymbal patting push Beger into polytonally exploring the crevices of his gooseneck and body tube.

Following a discordant blues line, anchored by Drake’s back beats and showy press rolls that show off Beger’s rock roots, the trio accelerates to interlocking harmonies on “Skies of Israel”. Parker’s sul ponticello bends are another barricade, keeping Beger away from regular theme variation and towards something more profound. Concentrating on harmonic overtones, the saxophonist’s smeary split tones, bell-muting and sluicing altissimo runs wind up the session(s) in a fashion that’s both moderato and liberated.

Perhaps it’s because Hebrew is read in a different fashion than English or that someone sensed Vol. 2 trumped Vol. 1. But the second session has an earlier catalogue number than the first volume. Either way the second disc is the one to seek out. Then if not satiated by the high class improvising there, look for more Beger CDs.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Vol 1: 1. Naked Truth 2. Duo #1 3. Duo #2 4. Rain Is Coming

Track Listing: Vol 2: 1. Evolving Silence 2. Duo #3 3. Funky Lacy 4. Skies of Israel

Personnel: Albert Beger (tenor saxophone and alto flute); William Parker (bass and African hunter’s harp) and Hamid Drake (drums and percussion)