Josh Berman Trio

A Dance and a Hop
Delmark DE 5021

Being based in Chicago and having worked at that city’s now closed Jazz Record Mart appears to have given cornetist Josh Berman a particularly cosmopolitan take on brass playing. Working with many open-minded players from the city and elsewhere, including tenor saxophonist Keefe Jackson and vibraphonist Jason Adasiewicz, he’s comfortable with sounds based on Bop, pre-modern and purely improvised music.

Having demonstrated on earlier CDs, that like a member of a precision sports team he’s high functioning in a group situation, Berman sets himself a much tougher goal on A Dance and a Hop. Backed only by the shaded pulsing from Frank Rosaly’s drum kit and the husky sonority of Jason Roebke’s bass, like the commander of an advance squad in a battle, Berman has to surmount uncharted sonic territory with what seem to be limited resources. That he – and the other trio members – do so well is recognition that in the right hands the pared-down diet of singular brass, string and percussion structures can be as musically nourishing as the equivalent of a musical multi-course meal.

Notwithstanding that all 11 compositions are by Berman, he abstains from the bravado common to many single horn sessions where the leader struts his technical commands like the best coordinated kid in gym class reducing the others to acolytes. Instead this is a group effort with the drummer’s terpsichorean shuffles and cymbal chings and the bassist’s symmetrical walking as generic to the tracks as cornet notes. Plus both rhythm players are given appropriate solo space.

While Berman doesn’t shy from moaning plunger tones or unexpected clarion blasts, his sophistication is confirmed in more relaxed incidents. Featuring double bass string pops, “Wooden” is anything but, for instance, and instead shuffles along as if the three are part of a soft-shoe act in early vaudeville. In a similar fashion “Your Uncle” is built up by Berman’s unforced blues progression with slap bass and chiming bell-like inflections helping to cement the foundation structure. Innate contemporary motifs are introduced during a sequence where Berman reaches for inner-horn echoes to add additional emotional content. Gurgling internal grace notes are showcased on “Today’s Date” and added to a rubato exposition. Meanwhile the numerous false endings on “That’s How” are part of the build up to matched counterpoint between Berman and Roebke. Meandering and dramatic, the cornetist combines a 1950s’-era Miles Davis-like coolness while expelling pointed brassiness as he exits the tune.

All and all, “That’s How” could also serve as a subtitle for the disc. It answers affirmatively the question of how to create a notable modern session with only cornet, double bass and drums – and demonstrates it as well.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Hang Ups 2. Blues 3. Wooden 4. Time/Trouble 5. Your Uncle 6. Mint 7. That’s How 8. Luggage 9. Bridges 10. Today’s Date 11. Cold Snap.

Personnel: Josh Berman (cornet); Jason Roebke (bass) and Frank Rosaly (drums)