Released in May this year on MAJ Records, High Standards is Jeff Berlin's most recent album. Slightly unusual perhaps, Berlin, almost a veteran pioneer of the electric bass in jazz alongside Jaco Pastorius, here departs from his more usual fusion settings for an album of standards in more or less straight-ahead fashion. The almost conventional piano trio setting, albeit led by electric bass guitar, works supremely well.
Joining Berlin on this outing are Richard Drexler on piano and upright bass, and Danny Gottlieb on drums. They make for a remarkably tight outfit.
Right from the off, Berlin does indeed set high standards, and the bar only seems to move up after this. The material on Jeff Berlin's High Standards is very well chosen and exquisite. A highly skillful improviser, Berlin gives a superb demonstration of the capabilities of the electric bass as lead. He is also generous in allowing pianist Drexler ample space to shine, and we are treated to some wonderful dialogue between Drexler and Berlin.
Among the eight standards, one work from the classical world is added, Maurice Ravel's Valse Nobles et Sentimentales no. IV. While perhaps not for the classical purist, this slightly unusual setting of piano and electric bass proves an absolute delight.
While on an album as thoroughly consistent as High Standards it would be quite unfair to pick particular favourites, as well as nigh on impossible, nonetheless the Dizzy Gillespie classic Groovin' High, Miles Davis favourites Nardis and Solar, and John Green's eternal Body & Soul stand out particularly.
High Standards is a highly compelling and delightful album. It also has to rate as one of Jeff Berlin's finest leader albums to date. If you expected Berlin to be totally out of his comfort zone here, you couldn't possibly be more mistaken. This is his finest demonstration that he is as at home with these standards as he is with his more familiar fusion work. This album also particularly highlights Berlin's most lyrical side.
Essential in any jazz electric bass collection, Jeff Berlin's High Standards should be in any good contemporary jazz collection.
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