Along with individualists like Taylor Ho Bynum, Kirk Knuffke and Ron Miles, Josh Berman, a key member of the fertile Chicago jazz scene, is one of a small group of forward-thinking musicians embracing the cornet as their primary instrument. In addition to working as a sideman in Jason Adasiewicz’s Rolldown and Ken Vandermark’s Audio One, as well as maintaining a rotating leadership role in the collective ensemble Fast Citizens, Berman regularly leads his own groups, as documented on the septet effort There Now (Delmark, 2012) and his quintet debut, Old Idea (Delmark, 2009).

For A Dance and A Hop, Berman is joined by upright bassist Jason Roebke and drummer Frank Rosaly – longstanding Windy City associates who support the leader’s discursive narratives with a rarefied sensitivity. As principal soloist, Berman acquits himself admirably at the forefront of this intimate trio, articulating abstruse variations with expressive lyricism and a wide range of dynamics. His ability to seamlessly integrate extended techniques into straightforward melodic themes draws salient historical connections between aesthetic innovations past and present, from the foundations laid by King Oliver to the post-war advances of Bobby Bradford.

Providing understated accompaniment, the nimble responsiveness of Roebke and Rosaly’s swinging interplay inspires the expressionism of Berman’s vocalized abstractions and oblique refrains in myriad settings, from bluesy rubato balladry to angular free bop. Despite their brisk, freewheeling spontaneity, none of these brief numbers are collectively improvised; all were written by Berman specifically for this session. Easily holding his own in this spare setting, Berman’s adventurous approach sustains interest throughout eleven concise tunes, demonstrating the harmonic and melodic sophistication of his protean technique.

Troy Collins

Originally published on Point of Departure, Issue 54 March 2016