November 2007

Chris Berger - Conversations
KS Jazz 11759-3310-2
Format: CD
Released: 2007
Musical Performance ****
Recording Quality ***
Overall Enjoyment ***1/2

Julian F. Thayer - Zakú
KS Jazz 11759-3311-2
Format: CD
Released: 2007

Musical Performance ****
Recording Quality ****
Overall Enjoyment ****

by Joseph Taylor

KS Jazz, based in Weehawken, NJ, calls itself a "Home for Creative Musicians" and places "…particular emphasis on giving artists who want to be musicians, not marketing creations, the freedom for experimentation and creativity." Two of the label’s recent releases, Chris Berger’s Conversations and Julian F. Thayer’s Zakú, demonstrate the label’s commitment to bringing challenging jazz to listeners, while not letting itself be pigeonholed as a home for a particular genre of the music. The link between these two discs is quality and respectful presentation.

Bassist Chris Berger’s career has followed the usual path for young jazz musicians: education (Bowling Green University) followed by work with a number of the music’s venerable elder statesmen. He wrote seven of the nine compositions on Conversations, including the most affecting track, "Ballad for Dominique," which features beautiful solos by Steve Wilson on soprano sax. Berger writes truly memorable tunes that give Wilson and the other musicians in the quartet, pianist David Budway and drummer Jeff "Tain" Watts, plenty to sink their teeth into. Berger himself is a tremendously rhythmic, expressive player, but it’s as a writer and arranger that he really makes his mark here.

Julian F. Thayer is also a bassist and composer, and his talents as a leader match Berger’s. Thayer, a professor of clinical psychology at Ohio State University, writes and performs music that is more "outside" than Berger’s, but it is an approachable mixture of cerebral and emotional components. Compositions like "Ocean" and "Snap" may take a few listens, but they soon come together with a strange, indefinable logic. Thayer generously gives space to music by other members of his quartet -- sax/coronet player Scott Robinson, pianist Jarmo Savolainen, and drummer Klaus Suonsaari. Zakú is invigorating and, like the music of Ornette Coleman or Cecil Taylor, rewarding because of its exotic beauty.

Conversations is somewhat marred by a bright mix that pushes the instruments to the front of the soundstage -- except for Berger, who is mixed too low. Zakú is very well recorded and mixed. Both discs are elegantly packaged in tri-fold digipaks with striking color photographs on the cover. I also recommend saxophonist Manuel Dunkel’s Darn That Dream, another KS Jazz release that is stunningly played and nicely recorded.