Acoustic and electric bassist Jordan Berger's "First" comprises eight original compositions (seven from the leader and one by tenorist Dan Loeb) along with choice covers of Thelonious Monk and Wayne Shorter respectively.
Features drummer(s) Matt Scarano and Byron Landham*, Patrick Hughes on trumpet, saxophonist Dan Loeb, guitarist Tim Wendel, Mike Frank, piano, and guest vocalist Chrissie Loftus* on:
"Qualm" / "Congregation" / "Played Twice" / "First" / *"Infant Eyes" / "Second" / "A Letter to Robert Hunter" / "Primonk" / "Self-inflicted" / "Third"
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What the critics say:
"First of all, congratulations to Jordan Berger for 'First' introduces to the jazz world a bassist of note. Accordingly, Bergerís first track on 'First' is a brief solo introduction called 'Qualm,' whose quickness, precise articulation and melodic sensibility would command attention...But Berger wants his group to bring to life his compositions in its various shades and textures. And so, appropriately, 'Qualm' glides into the next track, 'Congregation,' with its sections of five-four. The Jordan Berger sextet enters the track fully engaged. Its sound is not only matured as if they had performed together for years, but also distinctive with their own individuality of ideas held together by Bergerís compositions. Nonetheless, the force of not just Bergerís talent, but also his personality, remains undeniable, even as he steps into the background with firm, vibrant support.
His trilogy of compositions, 'First,' 'Second' and 'Third,' interspersed throughout the album, allows the musicians to improvise freely, though still governed by an overriding groove, like the six-eight sway made consistent during 'First' by Berger and his imaginative drummer, Matt Scarano. The sextetís other members are just as professional, with attention to dynamics and harmony and individuality of sound. Tenor saxophonist Dan Loeb makes his presence known whenever he performs, his phrasing fluid and affecting and no doubt influenced by Wayne Shorter, and his harmonic involvement enhancing the groupís unified sound. Sure enough, 'First' includes Shorterís 'Infant Eyes,' sung by Chrissie Loftus. But Bergerís influences include Thelonious Monk, it seems, and he performs 'Played Twice' as a duo with pianist Mike Frank, switching from unison melody to darting interjections to their own swing. 'Primonk' makes reference to Monk in name only as Berger moves to electric bass in his composition of contrasts between rock-influenced force and sections of calming modality.
'A Letter to Robert Hunter' provides the best opportunity to appreciate the talent of these musicians as this minor-key bluesy track allows guitarist Tim Wendel, trumpeter Patrick Hughes, Loeb and, yes, Berger himself to solo with assurance and soulfulness. Consisting of first-rate Philadelphia musicians, Bergerís sextet deserves a Second and a Third. Their abundance of ideas canít be contained in Firstís mere 59 minutes."
"Jordan Berger is a young bassist who, on this debut album as a leader, manifests a mature conception of the post-bop jazz idiom with his assembled group of mostly Philadelphia-based musicians, collectively producing a sophisticated, intelligent, and lively groove. The tracks are mostly originals which, by virtue of their resonances with the jazz legacy, sound delightfully familiar and provide an excellent foil for rich improvisations and collective musical conversation.
First opens with Berger's own 'Qualm,' featuring his extended soloing on upright bass that shows a master in the making. 'Congregation,' as the name implies, features the whole ensemble in a laidback, lightly swing tempo, with Dan Loeb's tenor sax and Tim Wendel's guitar solos shining brightly. Thelonious Monk's 'Played Twice' has rhythmic twists and turns that might have surprised even Monk, while the title track offers frenetic, dissonant variations on a blues theme. Wayne Shorter's 'Infant Eyes' is a beautiful ballad, sung in a sultry manner by vocalist Chrissie Loftus, who also composed the lyrics. Drummer Byron Landham makes a guest appearance here, supplying his painterly rhythmic backup. 'Second' and 'A Letter to Robert Hunter' continue the instrumental conversation, and 'Primonk' comes close to an R&B pun on Monk's syncopations, with Berger's funky bass guitar riffs and Matt Scarano's insistent drumming providing a heavy lilt. 'Self-Inflicted' has a lazy, reflective 'Paris Blues' feeling, contrasting sharply with the slow buildup of neurotic tensions in 'Third,' which closes the set.
Jazz musicians today have a struggle to go beyond what has already been produced, and many of them unfortunately try to get attention by extending clichťs or through almost too clever inventiveness. This album stands out by virtue of its straightforward ensemble playing which, at the same time, stretches musical concepts beyond expectations. Its simplicity enables paradoxical complexities that play upon the polarities and musical questions which make for great improvisations.
In addition to their jazz interests, Berger and Loftus are also members of a rock group, iNFiNiEN, exploring new territories of sound by using exotic scales, chords, and rhythms. Some of the ideas for First may have been generated in a rock context, but the album retains its straight-ahead jazz feeling throughout, and the players are all part of the contemporary jazz milieu of Philadelphia. If he maintains his jazz passions, Berger may well emerge as one of the best of his generation."
- All About Jazz.com
"Jordan Bergerís release starts with a one minute bass
solo track which segues neatly into the next one which is his own
'Congregation.' His bass is prominent in the mix throughout the
program, challenged only by Dan Loebís post Coltrane tenor at odd
intersections. Monkís 'Played Twice' finds him dueting with Mike Frank...All the tunes, save the ones
attributed above and Dan Leobís 'Inflicted' are Bergerís own and form
the somewhat moody substructure of a program that holds some
interest...find solace with this hour of moody
modality. Itís nicely played..."
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