Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Noah Bernstein Six 2012

So I'm old school and diggin' the cover art...When people think of jazz hot spots, Portland Oregon may be one of the last places that would cross their mind but so far this year I have had the good fortune to meet with with pianist/composer/arranger Ezra Weiss and six string phenom Daniel Klein and oddly enough saxophonist Noah Bernstein has gigged with both men.

Currently we find Bernstein concentrating on promoting his own release, Six...Music for saxophone quartet, bass and drums. While I try and stay away from the more generic labels critics and publicists tend to tag an artist with, upon hearing Bernstein's Six I immediately thought of harp bop meets Broadway. The term "experimental" does not really seem to fit well and I feel sure if asked Bernstein he would respond in similar fashion when I asked saxophone great James Carter to describe his music and his response was, "I am a searching artist." The World Saxophone Quartet immediately comes to mind for most people when discussing this type of format but Bernstein takes a slightly more accessible route while running a harmonic exploratory with this most formidable sextet. The colors painted by the ensemble are a mirror image of the cover art, deep and rich while having definitive boundaries and shadings. Minor keys and shifting meter while never falling over that self indulgent cliff sets this particular group miles ahead of similar ensembles.

While I am a former tenor player that only occasionally dabbles in a performance setting, Bernstein is an active player that occasionally dabbles in writing reviews so no pressure there...
"Jubilee" opens with a delightful syncopated bass line and the four part harmonic pop of what is certainly the modern jazz equivalent of the World Saxophone Quartet. Pulsating rhythms smoldering underneath a unique almost four part harmony arrangement of the horn section have this sextet on one of the most individual sounds in jazz today. A musical comfort zone somewhere between hard bop and a slight free jazz approach while remaining wildly accessible. "Ladders And Trees" is somewhat similar showcasing the groups formidable skills at shifting dynamics, meter at will without ever losing an ever present intense lyrical sense of direction. Closing out this gem we find "Zara's Theme" and while not necessarily a ballad in the traditional sense, the dynamics are dialed back but the melodic sense of the ensemble is pushed to the very limit. Open ended, warm, and vibrant are just some descriptive ideas to toss out when discussing Six. The arrangements are every bit as good as the individual tunes, don't hear that often!

One of the most innovative and entertaining releases I have heard in some time. A mysterious dynamic tension of minor keys seems to float above harmonic arrangements that are unlike anything one may have heard from a similar ensemble. A direct comparison to the World Saxophone Quartet is inherently unfair as Noah Bernstein's Six easily establishes their own identity so simply think of them as being "that good!" As technically gifted and artistically proficient as any ensemble their size or with similar instrumentation.

Tracks: HEA; Jubilee; A Place Called Silvermoon; DDR Twenty-Six-Sixty-Six; Inside The Apple; Ladders And Trees; Zara's Theme.

Personnel: Noah Bernstein: alto saxophone; Andrew St. James: bass; Mark Griffith: drums; Eugene Lee: soprano saxophone; Blake Lyman: tenor saxophone; Mary-Sue Tobin: baritone saxophone.