Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Peter Bernstein - Signs LIVE! (Smoke Sessions, 2017)

The group consisting of Peter Bernstein on guitar, Brad Mehldau on piano, Christian McBride on bass and Gregory Hutchinson have played on various configurations for over twenty years. They have all grown into successful band leaders in their own right, some of the leading lights of modern mainstream jazz, but here they reconvene under Bernstein's name for this celebration of their music which was recorded live during January of 2015 in New York City. The musicians are truly present and cognizant to the possibilities of the live setting, and you can tell that they have a lot of experience playing together, and great respect for each other, considering the egoless nature of the music and the support each musician pays to the others and the group as a whole. All of the music stretches out, ten of the eleven tracks are over ten minutes long, and Bernstein's compositions allow for a wide range of expression, beginning with "Blues for Bulgaria" which gives a bright and accessible approach to the blues and it allows the musicians to really jump right in and play, with fine results. Bernstein has a "classical" jazz guitar tone, coming out of the likes of Grant Green and Wes Montgomery, and he has superb control over his instrument. Along with Bernstein's original songs, the group takes on two Thelonious Monk compositions which also work quiet well. Mehldau really shines during these performances, comping and soloing with wit and grace, sounding freer and more engaged than on some of his own records, since he is among longtime friends and without the burden of leadership or the expectation to do anything but play well. The individuality of the Monk tracks, "Pannonica" and "Crepuscule With Nellie / We See" allow for varied approaches of tempo and volume and also makes great fodder for the musicians to improvise on in a knotty and intricate manner. The former has some particularly excellent bass playing, while the latter has Bernstein playing the first half of the medley unaccompanied, before the reminder of the band get intelligent and lyrical solo features as the performance moves along. Tracks like "Jive Coffee" and "Let Loose" give this album the exciting feeling of a blowing session for a jam session between friends that the listeners are eavesdropping on. Gradually working up the dynamic pace, the playing fast and fluid, and each of the musicians is more than up to the task whether taking generous solos, playing as a complete unit, or supporting one another. Overall, this album worked very well and those that are interested in making mainstream jazz will find a lot to enjoy. The musicians are at the top of their game and make music that is fresh and accessible. Signs LIVE! - amazon.com

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