Albert Beger's 5's Listening, released in 2004 on the Earsay label and following on from his trio album Hevel Havalim sees Beger in the relative safety and comfort of a quintet. In addition to Beger on tenor and soprano, the double frontline sees him teamed up with Yoni Silver - a long time collaborator of Israeli free jazz legendary pioneer Harold Rubin - on alto and bass clarinet (and organ). The rhythm section comprises guitarist Yiftach Kadan, Bass stalwart Gabriel Meyer and drummer Hagai Fershtman. The latter two are left from the previous trio.
Listening is dedicated to sopranoist Steve Lacy, but also encompasses tributes to free jazz and avant-garde pioneer Albert Ayler (Albert and Sasha) - also, coincidentally, a significant influence on Eric Dolphy - as well as to aforementioned clarinettist legend Harold Rubin (Baba Yogi), under whose guidance Beger started his own continuing journey into free jazz. Nowadays a jazz giant himself, Beger might seem more restrained than on previous albums, but this is often illusory. He is playing very much on the edge here, and being kept there by this superb quintet, although at the same time the format almost necessitates a little less stretching out. The compositions, all Beger originals, and the arrangements are inventive as ever, if tight - a clear reference to Lacy. Throughout, the music remains tightly focused.
Although one of Beger's great strengths is that his music always remains wonderfully accessible, even on subsequent albums including his latest, Peacemaker, this is his most accessible. In many ways then perhaps the best starting point for anybody unfamiliar with Beger. At the same time, Listening is also Albert Beger's best album up to the time. Personally, I might have preferred hearing a little more of Yoni Silver's bass clarinet and a little less of his alto, but then we can't have everything and in any case musically the distribution of the use of the instruments makes perfect sense.
On Listening, Beger also explores his lyrical - even sentimental - side to the fullest, but is usually countered by the rest of the quintet's down to earth attitude and is always pulled back from ever becoming overly sentimental. This particularly applies to the two gorgeous ballads, Albert and Sasha, as noted Beger's tribute to one of his most persistent influences, Albert Ayler.
As ever, Beger's music speaks most eloquently for itself. Listening is thoroughly consistent, and moreover more than compelling. Its overall predominantly mellow mood makes it a relaxing yet always stimulating, and always enjoyable, listening experience. Bundle this with its abundant charm, witticism and sheer elegance, and you have an album that is beautiful as well as outstanding.
Thus, Albert Beger's 5's Listening must be considered essential in any free jazz or contemporary jazz collection. Indeed, it should have a place in any kind of good jazz collection. If you haven't already got this album, I wouldn't leave it too long if you still want it as a CD...
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