At Chicago’s groovy Green Mill, the Berkman 4 held sway over a nearly full house on a darn chilly Friday night with a program of nearly all originals. He brought a boss band with him, too: Jimmy Greene on tenor & soprano saxes, Tom Martin on bass, and the fab Matt Wilson on drums. Stylistically, the DB4 was (mostly) verse-chorus-verse post-bop, with hearty but focused, imaginative solos. Greene’s style on tenor was like unto an amalgam of Charlie Rouse (the Monk of the sax) and Gene Ammons (earthy, warm, lots of swell middle-range playing) and his soprano was elegantly expressive in a most gentlemanly manner, at times with an oboe-like sonority. Greene swung mightily, yet knew when to pull back and rest. Martin was solid, sturdy, jaunty, lean ‘n’ mean as the occasion demanded. Wilson, as I’ve stated in these cyber-pages before, is one of the finest jazz drummers the American scene has produced. He’s all over his array of drums like Blakey (but he sounds not like Blakey, btw); his sticks, palms, and fingers coax all matter of extended technique-type sounds like the Art Ensemble of Chicago’s F. Don Moye or AMM’s Eddie Prevost, but he’s always propulsive, never delving into sound-for-sound’s sake (not that there’s anything wrong with that). While a through-and-though jazz drummer, he also played with the volatile whomp of the best rock drummers, throwing himself into the tubs a la the Who’s late Keith Moon (whose drum technique had been given props by none other than the late Elvin Jones).
Berkman? With swells like Greene and Wilson on stage, it was almost easy to over look the nice foundation he laid down for them to strut their stuff. Berkman seemed to hug the middle range of the keys, making the quick bop jabs to propel things along his way. Without "sounding like" Dave Brubeck, Berkman’s affable, sharp-witted lyricism was quite Brubeck-like. Other frames of ref would include the aforementioned Mr. Willis and Mr. Walton. In fact and I hope Mr. B doesn’t take (too much) offense at this but I enjoyed Berkman’s playing and originals much more in this in-person context than on some of his CDs, which are very good but can be a tad too languid for this finicky writer’s warped taste.
Bottom Line: the DB4 spun out some superlative jazz. It was "weekend night music," good-humored, crowd-pleasing, heartfelt, and engaging while also crammed with enough ingenuity, chops, and surprises to gratify even the toughest of the know-it-all Jazz Intellectual Posse. SEE the DB4 if/when they come to your town or go to their’s, it’s that simple.