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Music Review: David Berkman Quartet – Live At Smoke

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Listening to David Berkman’s traditional bebop quartet go to town on Live At Smoke is a charming experience that really impresses the social nature of jazz upon the listener. Kicking back with a glass of wine and a cigarette, it’s easy to get completely taken away with the cool slickness of this collaboration between the David Berkman Quartet and New York’s Smoke jazz club.

Berkman plays piano and is joined by tenor and soprano saxophonist Jimmy Greene, bassist Ed Howard, and Ted Poor on drums.

The playing on the record swings with that great late night cocktail feel, as though one should be required to dress up a little before digging in to Live At Smoke. That’s not to say that a run through the record’s six live tracks requires a dress code, but a little sprucing up before partaking in some delicious jazz never hurt nobody.

Greene’s sax work is fascinating and adventurous. He winds his way through the compositions with a sort of breathy cool. The way he responds to Berkman’s piano cues is really something, as are his delectable solos that curve and move like a red dress under a streetlamp.

Smoke, originally called Augie’s, proves a delightful environment for Berkman to set up shop. His quartet seems right at home in the club and for good reason, as the extensive liner notes reveal quite a history. Known for featuring some of the best young jazz players in New York City, Smoke is more than a club to the musicians who know it well and it houses countless great memories.

Live At Smoke was recorded by the David Berkman Quartet over the course of two nights and encompasses a total of five sets.

Berkman’s “Weird Knack” kicks things off and is a firecracker of a track built on a fun roll of notes and some great soloing from Berkman and Greene. The track has a pulse, often bounding and bouncing forward with plenty of sweet natural swing before delicately drawing back with light nuance.

“The Mayor of Smoke,” written by Benny Golson, is a quick and steady piece that seems to inhabit the surroundings of the club, while Berkman’s “Hidden Fondness” takes a difference approach and opens like a slowly unfurling blossom complete with billowing piano and light sax punches from Greene.

Live At Smoke is a night at a legendary jazz club without leaving the house. It showcases David Berkman’s group well, allowing the music to play gently and openly through the social environment of Smoke without losing anything in the translation to lonely stereo speakers at home.

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