John Lindberg, Karl Berger: Duets 1

Karl Berger
Duets 1
Between the Lines

The liner notes’ reference to the difference between these men’s ages seems curious from a certain viewpoint. Twenty-three years? It matters which twenty-three years because Berger, born 1936, a German pianist long resident in the USA, emerged not at some earlier stage in jazz development, but at a time when boundary-pushing and incoherence could seem the same thing.

The present set doesn’t, however, suggest incoherence, lack of attention to musical priorities, compositional shape, phrasing, intonation, or even classical musical expression. It’s nearly jazz, and more nearly chamber music for double bass in duet with either piano or vibraphone, at times with jazz phrasing. The numbers delivered don’t follow the song chorus structure of performances in mainstream varieties of jazz, but unlike too many free improvisation records, this one doesn’t have extensive passages of the dull and dubious, nor the rehearsal for something which would have been well worth repeated listenings if any of the players had found it. The numbers here are distinctive, concise, and memorable.

“Innocuous” might seem an odd name for an opening or any other track — unless there’s some cryptic allusion to an avant-garde of old which some auditors long ago certainly didn’t think innocuous. It’s just very nice, Berger on piano, lightly supported by the bassist, spinning out a very long melody line, like a statement of where the duo will get to by the end. Lindberg’s bass comes in a bit more, the music becomes more fragmentary, tentative, setting itself the problem whose solution concludes with the same long theme which opened: getting there. That attempt at beauty which didn’t fail is followed by a fairly titled “Peace”, theme from Ornette Coleman, Berger often playing jazz licks on vibes over a walking bass.

More forceful piano opens “Chromatic Ways”, and a third distinctive performance, the late David Izenzon’s “I am a Leaf for Today”, has a powerful churchy flavour (A pretty piano tune which the darting vibes-bass duet “3-3-3-3-7” is well programmed to follow, with its strong leading phrase and some dirty work on the bass strings, and Lindberg eventually resorting to his bow). There’s even a good and proper ending after a final delightful scampering section. On “Dakini”, as everywhere, and here on piano, Berger is very attentive to phrasing, and the melodic interest is strong. Lovely tune this, moving, with especially sensitive bass work. “Yatan-Na” opens with very dramatic scratching, then wailing, and then bowed and groaning bass, a long virtuoso first half before the piano enters over a handsome extended bass figure, Berger playing a fuller and fuller part working out an overall shape to another number with a well-shaped ending.

Berger’s back on vibes for “In My Mind’s Eye”, a powerful theme and the second composition here from the too early departed bass maestro Izenzon. With Berger’s attentive support, Lindberg takes this through an increasingly agitated development into his instrument’s highest register. What’s it about? There’s an endearing mystery, as the wild overtones pass decisively away, into a low bowed passage of a concluding section which pauses to re-enter the bass’s top register, but briefly and this time calmly.

“Ancient Warmth” with its lack of thematic distinctiveness is a pacy duet in which bass and vibes are together again, bobbing and dancing. Togetherness seems to have been resumed, but with a conclusion a little unsettling, unresolved. A second set of duets is advertised to follow.

RATING 7 / 10
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