Karl Berger/Dom Minasi

NatchtRecords No #

By Ken Waxman

Highlighting his skills on both piano and vibes, this unpresumptuous yet arresting duo session could be subtitled: Two sides of Karl Berger. Yet the impression that resonates after digesting the dozen improvisations that make up this meeting with guitarist Dom Minasi is how seamlessly both are able to balance inside-outside sensibilities.

It’s not surprising however. Throughout their careers – Berger (b. Heidelberg 1935) and Minasi (b. NYC 1943) – have individually walked that sonic tightrope. An innovator who founded Woodstock’s Creative Music Studio with Ornette Coleman in 1971 and was active playing with Don Cherry, the Globe Unity Orchestra and other jazz experimenters, Berger also incorporates so-called world music into his sound and has arranged sessions for popsters such as Natalie Merchant and Better Than Ezra. Author of several books on jazz theory, chord substitution and improvising, Minasi not only plays in the abstract music realm with violinist Jason Kao Hwang and bassist Ken Filiano among others, but frequently accompanies singers and specializes in drastic reinterpretations of Ellington and American songbook classics.

Not that there are any standards here. But a swing undercurrent is maintained, no matter how prickly the melodies are or how provocatively the tunes are constructed. Tracks such as “Dancing on the Stars” and “Waterfall” find Berger’s tremolo mallet shimmers suggesting Milt Jackson’s pressurized smacks after a fashion. Minasi’s economical and staccato picking is more percussive than Jackson partners like Joe Pass used, but his bonding obbligatos show how he and Berger operate with the same sense of purpose. Through variations in phrasing, they play catch-and-release with the theme, but never lose the connective thread.

Piano-centric tunes such as “Prophesy” and “Goodbye” are more methodical and impressionistic, but paradoxically more jazz-like as well. On the first, unhurried patterns unspooled by Berger are delicately decorated by the guitarist, as if the partners were Kenny Barron and Jim Hall. More expressive still, “Goodbye” is almost lush, especially when warm, low-voiced plucks from Minasi sympathetically harmonize with Berger’s legato pumps that wander into romantic territory. Enough piano key clips and sharp guitar string snaps remain to keep the result mercurial though.

Featuring veterans playing at the height of their craft, Synchronicity proves that abstract improvising can be as notably advanced by inference as swagger.

Tracks: Dancing On the Stars; Echoes; Chop-Chop; Waterfall; Thursday's Child; Hurry! Hurry; She; Bell Tower; Synchronicity; Prophesy; Goodbye; Bach

Personnel: Karl Berger: vibraphone, piano; Dom Minasi: guitar

—For New York City Jazz Record December 2012