Like his contemporary Kirk Knuffke, cornetist Josh Berman revels in the rounded resonances requisite to his horn. He brings a classicist’s control of intonation and phrasing together with a versatile openness to shrewdly-deployed extended techniques. Broad compositional acumen sits comfortably with an abiding embrace of spontaneity and when he shapes a line it’s as much about specific inflections as the assemblage of notes behind it. For A Dance and a Hop Berman pares the more expansive ensemble parameters of his earlier two Delmark offerings down to a trio completed by fellow Chicagoans bassist Jason Roebke and drummer Frank Rosaly. The simplified surroundings bring Berman’s concentrated attention to detail into even bolder relief.

Eleven morsel-sized compositions, all of Berman’s authoring, combine into program of music that approximates the economical running time of a classic LP. Titles reflect a similar efficiency-oriented mindset, expressing a single idea or descriptor as placeholder for associative sounds. Close, at times almost hermetic, interplay between the instruments is a reliable near constant with the musicians audibly anticipating, and at times even finishing, one another’s statements on the fly, sometimes to a slightly disconcerting degree. Spacing and dynamics constitute core considerations as well with Berman threading in pauses and detours at unpredictable intervals alongside responsive commentary from his colleagues. For just three instruments the density and acuity of activity is frequently startling.

The shambolic swing of “Hang Ups” is an out-of-the-gate distillation of the trio’s general strategy of advancing a hard, aggressive collective attack with an allegiance to melody intact. A simple worrying riff at the root of “Blues” blooms into a raucous, sustained expulsion of brassy smears. “Wooden” sways and lurches on a massive pizzicato pulse from Roebke encircled by an anxious brushed beat. Even sans sticks, Rosaly gives his kit a good, if comparatively quiet, pummeling. Berman defers with some regularity as well as when he and Rosaly drop out on the middle section of “Your Uncle”, leaving Roebke room to wring a taut, tension-wrought extemporization from his strings. Brief, but bracing, “Luggage” once again shows Rosaly’s pugilistic skill with brushes as he gets deep into the sort of deftly swinging syncopations that  recall Gene Krupa by way of Clyde Stubblefield.

In common with a significant section of the Delmark roster, Bergman’s biography includes a stint as erstwhile employee of the retail end of the label’s business, the Jazz Record Mart. The job accorded him enviable daily exposure to the entire recorded history of jazz. That education translates liberally to his horn through music that resists easy road maps or referencing while applying the lessons of the past directly to the present.

By Derek Taylor

Originally published October 15th 2015 at http://dustedmagazine.tumblr.com/post/131222401573/josh-berman-trio-a-dance-and-a-hop-delmark