Ron Kerber: 'Round in Circles (DMJ-1078)
Saxophonist Ron Kerber debuts nine strikingly expressive original compositions, backed by a heavyweight rhythm section including franchise pianist Jim Ridl.
Personnel: Ron Kerber, saxophones; Jim Ridl, piano; Tony Miceli, vibes; Howie Thompson, bass; Joe Nero, drums.
"Jofa (for Joe Farrell)" / "Berliner Blau" / "'Round in Circles" / "Via Dolorosa" / "Uncharacteristic of You" / "Freddie 'n Me" / "Ariel" / "Forty Days" / "While We Slept"
What the critics say:
"...a strongly turned set of mainstream Jazz. Kerber's got the requisite rock-solid chops but also real feeling and imagination, and he writes a good tune: like the shrewd tribute to Kurt Elling, the two very different Blues lines 'Berliner Blau' and 'Freddie 'n Me,' and the tailchasing 6/4 groove of 'Round in Circles...'
...this is a satisfying album, benefiting from the warm studio sound and the sharp-as-a-tack rhythm section helmed by pianist Jim Ridl (vibraphonist Tony Miceli takes over on a few cuts)..."
"Philadelphia saxman Ron Kerber may be making his debut as a leader...but he shows nothing but a veteran's poise on this collection of nine of his own original compositions...he demonstrates his aptitude for all three horns over an incredibly sympatico rhythm section of his fellow Philadelphians (drummer Joe Nero, bassist Howie Thompson, and a alternating tag-team of de facto Dreambox house pianist Jim Ridl and vibes player Tony Miceli).
This group has a tremendous chemistry; a lot of jazz sessions have a relaxed, after-hours feel, but the music here feels not so much relaxed as imbued with a knowing, mature calm that emanates from Kerber and is grasped and responded to by the rest of the band. Kerber has a lot to say, but he isn't going to stumble by pouring it all out too urgently. There's a beatitude and quiet strength in his sound and a logical sense of inevitability in the way his solo ideas develop. Nero's understated but unerring; he and Kerber each play behind the beat at times and this collective flirtation with inertia produces a remarkable tension. The music's well-served by Glenn Barratt's fine engineering. It's perfectly recorded and mixed, sonically well above the norm.
Kerber's compositions are very good. The title track is a fantastic song with a hypnotic, repeated motif that inspires some great alto work from the leader, and Miceli's vibes solo here manages to get right into the heart of the song. 'Berliner Brau' offers a boppish theme with some appropriate Monkisms from pianist Ridl...'Via Dolorosa' is a stately, doleful dirge with alternating solos from Kerber and Ridl where their rapport is overwhelming: so close is their communion that the listener feels almost as though he is eavesdropping on a private conversation.
My favorite song, though, is the grooving 'Uncharacteristic of You,' which has some great walking bass from Thompson and an unusual structure where unconventional lengths of the tune's sections produce a strange off-kilter frisson. Finally, there's the album's emotional centerpiece, the majestic tenor meditation 'While We Slept,' which brings it to a fitting and hopeful conclusion...
...an ambitious recording that, thanks to good material and band chemistry, succeeds on its own terms."
- All About Jazz.com
"With the release of 'Round In Circles,' Ron Kerber has established himself as a creative musician who can bring to life the ideas of his apparently unlimited imagination, and he does it with authority, clarity and cogency...At all times, Kerber retains control of the sound he wishes to establish by switching horns as appropriate, and by setting up complementary colors painted by his back-up group. I dare not call his a rhythm section because it's more than that, as suggested by the addition of vibraphonist Tony Miceli. Rather, Kerber's group blends shades subtle and richly to fulfill the suggestions inherent in Kerber's music.
Starting from the last track and moving backward, 'While We Slept' is an appropriate example of all that Kerber achieves on 'Round In Circles.' The tune starts as a duo lullaby, with Kerber's tenor sax comforting the listener in long tones and balladic assurances as bassist Howie Thompson follows the melody. However, Kerber's intentions are more profound than sleep inducement, and indeed that sense of security implied by the first movement is in ironic contrast with the rest of the piece. As 'While We Slept' picks up momentum when Miceli joins in, and finally when it moves dynamically into a whirling 6/8 theme of descending chords, it is revealed that Kerber is referring to 9/11 and that the composition not only re-creates the contrasts of the event. It also comments upon the distinction between Americans' unthinking reliance upon their government's defenses and the results of a single, but mammoth and inexplicable, vulnerability.
Unlike politically charged recordings of jazz artists like Max Roach or Charles Mingus, Kerber's concerns seem to result from attachment to the people he describes or the the feelings deriving from a significant event. 'Jofa' is Kerber's relaxed tribute on soprano sax to Joe Farrell, and this first track invites the listener to the remainder of the album. 'Berliner Blau' features pianist Jim Ridl equally as he plunks out the framework of the blues with suggestions of Monk, Duke and Basie before he breaks loose in a confident 'C Jam Blues'-like swing over walking bass lines. On the other hand, 'Round In Circles' consists of an introductory cadenza on alto sax with the force and brilliance during the excitement of build-up reminiscent of Phil Woods. Once the rest of the group joins in the six-four elaboration upon the motivic repetition, Kerber resolves into an opposing straight-four romp before taking the listener back into patterns of three again. 'Via Dolorosa' is perhaps the only song written to describe Jesus' walk from the Praetorium to Golgotha, and Kerber re-creates the walk as a slow tango with Thompson's bass lines imitating the slow, dolorous walk while the soprano sax tells the story.
'Round In Circles' is an all-'round outstanding recording that balances widely varying compositions with the consistency of execution by an outstanding group that shares in Kerber's intellectual and artistic vision."
"...a straight-ahead, smoothly flowing session that goes down easily.
Kerber wrote all the tunes here. He knows how to communicate.
And his keening tone tends to describe the uplifting side of things. Even 'Via Dolorosa,' based on Jesus' walk to his crucifiction site, looks forward to the resurrection. 'While We Slept,' recalling the events of 9/11, begins simply with sax and bassist Howie Thompson in a hopeful anthem format."
- Philadelphia Inquirer
"Ron's Kerber's first solo CD takes the listener on an emotional journey accross three saxophones. His soprano is sweet. His alto simply sings and his tenor resonates, reminiscent of many and yet similar to none.
''Round in Circles' provides a wonderful showcase for Kerber's compositional talents and saxophone skills. Fellow Philadelphians Miceli, Thompson, Ridl and Nero provide a solid - though never rigid - foundation for the ensembles' interplay.
''Round in Circles' is one of those recordings which requires several listenings to fully digest. There is much to discover with each new pass. Ron Kerber is a man blessed with many talents. His solos are always melodic, never moving forward without a purpose. It's refreshing whenever you can witness the cream rising to the top."
- The Sax Shed
"Ron Kerber tips his hat to the legendary Joe Farrell on the opening cut
of this collection. The beautifully lyric 'Jofa' unfolds with Ronís soprano
sax taking the lead in a relaxed and reminiscent manner...This is a launch point for an original collection that
should be required listening for those interested in bridging the gap to the
heart and soul of contemporary jazz.
A solid underpinning by the rhythm section provides an excellent bed
for Jim Ridlís eloquent statement on the piano and a tasteful solo is handed
in by bassist Howie Thompson. Ronís band continues to pass the music
around with a joyful journey into dissonance, 'Berliner Blau,' that subtly
morphs into a contrasting and more traditional bop reading.
The aptly named title cut 'Round in Circles' takes us through some
changes melodically and time-wise making an interesting showcase for Tony
Micelliís facile vibe work.
The music continues with eclectic choices from Ronís self-penned
songbook, such as the biblically inspired 'Via Dolorosa,' the
unconventionally formed 'Uncharacteristic of You,' and the sprightly and
swinging 'Freddie ní Me,' which drummer Joe Nero propels with a good-natured
Thereís more...Listen up and you will hear the integrity of seasoned players
expressing emotions that we all share. There is a wealth of artistic talent in
the Philadelphia area and this album is a shining example."
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