Josh Berman & His Gang

The name of this band deliberately echoes Chicago jazz groups of the distant past, like Bix Beiderbecke and His Gang, and the Austin High Gang, which included the cornetist Jimmy McPartland and the clarinetist Frank Teschemacher, and the guitarist Eddie Condon as a kind of auxiliary member. This gives you a clue that Mr. Berman, a cornetist in his late 30s, is kind of a scholar. He is, but not by the letter; he’s an intuitive one, making collages or loose sketches out of history, connecting sounds from different eras and letting them bleed together. “There Now,” the second album under his own name, uses an eight-piece crew of Chicago musicians who often play in one another’s bands, including the tenor saxophonist Keefe Jackson, clarinetist Guillermo Gregorio, vibraphonist Jason Adasiewicz, bassist Josh Abrams and drummer Frank Rosaly. Besides a few of Mr. Berman’s own compositions it includes versions of jazz standards, some from that earlier time and place, like “Liza” and “Sugar,” both recorded in 1927 by Eddie Condon. This group breaks these pieces down, and then reassembles them in a pretty profound and extraordinary way, moving between real ballad playing (sweet and careful) and agitated group improvisation (but never just outbursts; as a composer-arranger, Mr. Berman is a strategist). There’s hints of some early jazz, some Mingus, some Art Ensemble of Chicago; the music bounces, because of the Abrams-Rosaly rhythm section, and rings with Mr. Adasiewicz’s heavy metallic chords. The sensibilities tied together by each of these pieces can seem far apart, but the band does the job backhandedly, as if it’s no big thing; theirs is a particularly Chicago mind-set, strong-willed and unpretentious.

-Ben Ratliff, New York Times, August 17th, 2012

Originally published: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/19/arts/music/new-cds-josh-berman-guardian-alien-rodrigo-campos.html