Jeff Berlin, High Standards [M.A.J. Records]

With his first disc of all covers and the fourth with his versatile trio (featuring drummer Danny Gottleib and pianist/upright bassist Richard Drexler), Jeff Berlin’s turn toward straightahead jazz comes full swing (no pun) and full force.
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With his first disc of all covers and the fourth with his versatile trio (featuring drummer Danny Gottleib and pianist/upright bassist Richard Drexler), Jeff Berlin’s turn toward straightahead jazz comes full swing (no pun) and full force.

With his first disc of all covers and the fourth with his versatile trio (featuring drummer Danny Gottleib and pianist/upright bassist Richard Drexler), Jeff Berlin’s turn toward straightahead jazz comes full swing (no pun) and full force. Berlin and Drexler (on piano) show their bebop-blowing mettle on up versions of “Groovin’ High” and “I Want to Be Happy,” before the trio begins to really impose its persona. “Nardis,” with its open, angular melody, proves the perfect twobass- and-drums vehicle; “Solar” dawns with a free jazz opening; the Jaco-associated “Initiation” is reborn as a medium backbeat shuffle, while “Someday My Prince Will Come” is also slowed down— both featuring brilliant chordal passages by Berlin. Most impressive is “Body and Soul,” where Jeff turns up the juice via his trademark hammered legato left-hand phrasing and some head-turning spontaneous reharmonizations behind both piano solo and closing melody. While a sad footnote is the recent passing of Jeff’s teacher, the late great Charlie Banacos, somewhere he’s smiling proudly.

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