(RANDOM ACT RECORDS; 2013)
Jeff Berlin has jazz hands… big ol’ bass-playin’ jazz hands. Jeff is a masterful player, as are the other two members – acoustic bassist/pianist Richard Drexler and drummer Mike Clark – of this trio (do the math… it adds up… really!). LOW STANDARDS is marketed as “an incredible nod to master jazz composers” and the first track, Wayne Shorter’s “ESP,” is full-on Stanley Clarke bass-as-lead-instrument rockin’ jazz (fusion, if such a word is still used). Drexler, on acoustic bass, I suppose, is holding the rhythm with Clark, though it’s rather hard to tell for sure. He does, however, solo on piano on each of the eight tracks. “ESP” is one of three Shorter pieces featured (“El Gaucho” and “Fee Fi Fo Fum” are the others) and, therein seems to lie the chink in the armor of LOW STANDARDS. Wayne Shorter is wildly talented sax player and composer but the players here seem to have dug themselves a rut by picking too many slow-to-mid tempo numbers (or maybe it’s just a matter of the band’s arrangements… I don’t know). These guys border on virtuoso stature in the jazz field, but so much of this album just feels ponderous and over-thought-out. So much of what’s good about jazz is its unpredictable nature; I don’t feel that here. Everything is just too neat and tidy!
Things don’t pick up again, for me anyway, until Carla Bley’s “Vashkar,” track number 5. It, then, however, reverts back to form with more – for want of a better term – “easy listening elevator muzak.” I wish I had more nice things to say about LOW STANDARDS as a whole but, especially after that first track and “Vashkar,” I just get a sense of unmet expectations. I know that Jeff Berlin has more to offer. Hopefully, he’ll bounce back with his next one. Here’s a really cool thing about Random Act Records: 10% of the proceeds from album sales goes to charity. In the case of Jeff Berlin’s LOW STANDARDS, sales benefit the Doctor Theodore A Atlas Foundation (www.dratlasfoundation.com), a worthy endeavor, indeed.