Jeff Berlin – In Harmony’s Way

In Harmony’s Way
Jeff Berlin
(MAJ – 2001)
by John Barrett

Jeff Berlin is percussive, propulsive … and explosive. Playing as much sound as music, he works riffs into moods, on which his guests expound. He squeaks on “Runaway Train”, thumping the bass for power. He plays it like a drum part (think of Jaco’s tune “Honestly”) and when Dave Liebman starts yelping, everything comes alive. The notes sound like scraping metal; Richard Drexler plays a nervous boogie, and Liebman returns, even more intense. (A few minutes later, Drexler has a Tyneresque solo – it impresses me.)

“Your Brain on Jazz” starts with Jeff’s slippery blues: his notes are blunt, and also tangy. Hear the cymbals grow: when Danny Gottlieb hits his peak, Gary Burton chimes in with cold chords. I love this solo: its toughness is somehow lyrical. The big blues are heard when “Emeril Kicks It Up”: sleek chords go sparring with a greasy guitar (Mike Stern). Jeff sounds like a saxman, howling into the night. Chords are always changing on “Up and In”, a little like “Giant Steps”. Liebman’s on tenor, blowing strong and charging hard. (His phrases from into a towering structure … a beauty to behold.) Berlin does little more than a fast walk, and doesn’t need to – his composition does its own talking.

A shimmering bass is heard on “Heart of a Child”, one of two tunes without guests. Drexler is delicate at the keys; the brushes are exquisite. Dave returns with “Liebman on a Jet Plane” – silly title, intense playing. Starting with a Coltrane mood, the tune becomes a fast swinger; Drexler is great in both contexts. (Jeff’s solo is fast – picture Eddie Gomez with an electric bass.) A wordless vocal brings hope on “Pale Rider”, next to the guitar and Clare Fischer’s electric piano. Something of a bossa, it walks softly and its beauty hits you with surprise. And Drexler sends us home with “A Place of Know”: formal phrases, started with elegance. Jeff has one of his more melodic solos, skipping between the drumbeats; the piano pours on the warmth, and it lasts forever. With good songs and better players, this album has its way with your ears.