Shelly Berg's new CD Blackbird
hit the streets on January 25th; LA area jazz got a tasty preview of the Concord release a week early at a special show by the Shelly Berg Trio at Catalina Bar & Grill. The show naturally drew heavily from the disc, which the pianist and USC professor plugged relentlessly (and amusingly) during the evening. Rounding out Berg's trio were the well-traveled bassist Chuck Berghofer and drummer Gregg Field. Blackbird
takes its title from the Lennon McCartney tune of the same name, and Berg's arrangement of transforms the gentle melancholia of the Beatles' acoustic guitar version into a swinging, jubilant gospel-blues number in 7/4; Berg interpreted it as a comment on race relations, which may help explain the nod towards gospel. Whatever the reasoning behind it, it served as an effective platform for the band.
The trio primarily focuses on popular standards; the Beatles are one of three artists from the rock and roll era who the group took on, the others being Stevie Wonder and Billy Joel. There was one other nod to pop music of the sixties and seventies, and it was one of the highlights of the evening (although the album, alas, does not contain a version of it): a blues based on Berghofer's famous descending chromatic riff from Nancy Sinatra's smash "These Boots Were Made For Walking," generously included to feature the bassist. Berghofer took a good, long solo on this, and finished the number up with a quote from another of his signature pieces, the theme from the TV show "Barney Miller." Another unusual choice for a jazz piano trio was the group's pensive reading of Pat Metheny's "Question and Answer."
Other selections were more familiar to those whose ears are on a steady diet of jazz; one of the most beautiful examples was Billy Strayhorn's "A Flower Is A Lovesome Thing" introduced by a couple minutes of gorgeous solo piano. The group's take of "I Hear A Rhapsody" swung with a good deal of intensity and was one of several numbers that featured Field prominently. Another was "Hot It Up," a bouncy, Cajun influenced number by Berg that takes its name from a popular New Orleans expression.
Shelly Berg worked the crowd with humorous aplomb, but his playing displayed the seriousness with which he takes music. He seemed at ease in his asides, but the contortions he went through at the piano evidenced pain as well. You may or may not have a chance to catch the Shelly Berg Trio in the near future, but--as the pianist frequently reminded the crowd in Hollywood--their new CD Blackbird
is out on Concord Records. I, for one, recommend it.