On Friday night, Chicago cornetist Josh Berman produced decidedly more intimate sounds at Constellation, leading a trio in music from his austerely alluring new album, “A Dance and a Hop” (Delmark Records).

The title is open to interpretation, but it certainly describes the nature of Berman’s phrase-making, the musician crafting lines that bobbed and weaved and darted about, never settling in one place for very long. This was true at all tempos and dynamic levels, though for the most part Berman and his similarly nimble colleagues — drummer Frank Rosaly and bassist Jason Roebke — never rushed or shouted or otherwise overstated their case. Instead, they conjured an uncommonly delicate and transparent ensemble sound, with Berman consistently at its forefront.

One had to marvel at the sheer amount of melodic invention Berman produced, showing a remarkable capacity for continuously creating lines that twist and turn in unexpected directions. Whether he was articulating mercurial motifs in “Hang Ups” or leaving ample space between softly stated gestures in “Blues,” Berman never lacked for ideas. That his musical vocabulary danced around traditional notions of harmony and tonality only heightened one’s admiration for the creativity of this work.

Listeners with conservative musical tastes might have been unnerved by Berman’s unconventional approach to melody making, and those with a penchant for the outer edges of the jazz avant-garde might have found the proceedings a bit genteel. But listen closely to this trio’s playing, and you had to be disarmed by the self-styled poetry of Berman’s solos and the dexterity and intuitiveness of Roebke’s and Rosaly’s responses.

Throughout, Berman left himself quite exposed in this music, his colleagues providing texture and support but leaving the heavy lifting to him. That he sustained interest with such straightforward, linear playing said a great deal about the eloquence of his musical vocabulary.

Howard Reich, Chicago Tribune, September 20th 2015

Originally published: http://www.chicagotribune.com/entertainment/music/reich/ct-amir-elsaffar-josh-berman-constellation-20150920-column.html