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by Ian Mann

August 26, 2010


An excellent advertisement for virtually all the artists concerned and for Berklee itself.

Students of Berklee College of Music

“Birds Of A Feather”

(Jazz Revelation Records)

Jazz Revelation Records is the record label set up to showcase the talents of the student musicians at the famous Berklee College of Music located in Boston, MA, USA. “Birds Of A Feather” represents the seventh of a series of annual compilation albums and features the cream of the current student crop.

Dozens of leading jazz musicians have passed through Berklee’s portals and although it’s an oft repeated criticism that college educated musicians all tend to sound the same that’s not a point of view I’d necessarily subscribe to, certainly not on the evidence of this richly varied recording.

The music on “Birds Of A Feather” consists entirely of original compositions by Berklee students and the music covers an impressive stylistic range. Each of the eleven tracks features a different line up and the ethnic diversity of the featured musicians reflects Berklee’s global outreach. Despite the differing styles the collection holds together very well as an album and some of the young musicians featured here are surely destined to be the jazz stars of the future.

Recorded to the highest technical standards at Boston’s Mix One Studios the pieces on this album compare favourably with pretty much everything I’ve ever covered for this site. The album begins with two excellent examples of contemporary jazz piano featuring the piano trios of Nikolas Anadolis and Tom Kain.

“Walking In The Dark City” by the Greek pianist Anadolis features tricky, stop start rhythms from bassist James Robbins and drummer Angelo Spampinato plus an expansive and exuberant solo from the leader. It’s an assured and dynamic performance that stands up well in comparison to most contemporary piano jazz. If you like Brad Mehldau and Keith Jarrett the chances are you’ll like this.

The same could be said for “Glenn’s Caliper” written by pianist Tom Kain and his brother Will. On this track at least Kain’s approach is more lyrical than that of Anadolis. The Kain brothers have come up with a gorgeous tune that draws excellent performances from bassist Jared Henderson, who also features as a soloist, and drummer Shane Fox. Kain’s own solo is flowingly lyrical with Fox’s sensitive and sympathetic brush work the perfect foil. Kain also plays electric keyboards and appears in a number of other bands suggesting that he is a highly versatile musician.

Horns enter the proceedings with “On The Way Back”, a beautiful ballad written by Israeli alto saxophonist Lihi Haruvi. Her quartet includes three of her compatriots, all of them students at Berklee, with Ronan Schmueli on piano, Tamir Schmerling on bass and Eran Fink at the drums. Haruvi has also produced a beautiful tune which is well served by her long, graceful alto lines, Shmueli’s lyrical piano and the tasteful backing of Schmerling and Fink. However for all the prettiness there is still plenty of improvisational gristle as Haruvi’s horn pushes and probes.

The next track “Mr. Williams Was Here” marks a switch to tenor on a tune written by and performed by Swiss saxophonist Christoph Huber. I assume the title is a dedication to drummer Tony Williams who, although born in Chicago, was brought up in Boston. In any event the tune is the most forceful item thus far with some muscular tenor sax from Huber and a blues inflected solo from pianist Nikolas Anadolis, making his second appearance on the album. Also back for a second time are bassist James Robbins and drummer Angelo Spampinato from Anadolis’ trio.
Already a multiple award winner Canadian alto saxophonist Nathan Cepelinski is something of a rising star. His “The Seven Seas” is an ambitious, wide ranging composition that teams him with trombonist Ryan Dragon plus a rhythm section of pianist Christian Li, bassist Lim Yang and drummer Jeff Fajardo. The broad scope of his writing recalls Pat Metheny and his cinematic tune takes in excellent solos from himself, pianist Li and bassist Yang plus some fine ensemble playing.

Another award winner, Italian pianist Enrico De Trizio has just graduated from Berklee. “The Journey Ahead” features his trio with bassist Sam Jun C. Lee and drummer Giancarlo De Trizio, the latter I assume to be Enrico’s brother. The basic trio sound is augmented by wordless, layered voices which help to give De Trizio’s music an epic feel. Passages of reflective solo piano alternate with more groove orientated sections. There’s a lot going on here, maybe rather too much at times, but there’s no doubting De Trizio’s technique or ambition. He’s already played with a lot of big names, among them Joe Lovano, Kenwood Dennard and Fred Wesley and is clearly a highly versatile musician who seems destined for big things.

The most unusual track on the record has to be “Rain Dance”, a piece written by Japanese flautist Kazuyo Kuriya for an all flute ensemble. The composer plays bass flute with Burak Besir on first flute, Jeremy De Jesus on second flute and Susanna Quilter on alto flute. The ensemble is conducted by Emi Inaba. The music represents something of a palette cleanser following some pretty intense jazz performances, the sound pitched somewhere between traditional Japanese elements and European chamber music.

The “palette cleanser” description could also be applied to “Stories”, a delightful duet between the Brazilian guitarist and composer Italo Cunha and clarinettist Felix Peikl. Cunha states that the tune is about friendship and the meditative atmosphere and the intimate interplay between the musicians amply bears this out.

From Delhi, India guitarist Aditya Balani leads an international “world jazz” ensemble. Balani plays a very distinctive fretless guitar and his group on his tune “Quicksand” includes trumpeter Aaron Bahr, pianist Sharik Hasan, bassist Shin Sakaino and drummer Tarun Balani. The viola of Mimi Hristova adds much to the ensemble’s distinctive sound, a kind of Middle Eastern/Indian/Jazz hybrid. British listeners may be reminded at times of the music of figures such as saxophonist Gilad Atzmon and guitarist Nicolas Meier. Balani and his impressive ensemble fit a lot of styles into the course of six minutes or so and it’s a credit to their abilities that it all sounds perfectly natural and organic.

The Turkish musician Utar Dundarartun is an interesting figure. Currently studying film composition and scoring at Berklee he is also a trained classical percussionist. Here he plays electric piano on his own “7th Legion”, a funk work out that also features the flute of Sarpay Ozcagatay. Electric bassist Tyreek Jackson is also a featured soloist and the line up is completed by Ekin Cengizkan at the drums. Dundarartun has written for orchestras but for me this piece of funk fluff is probably the weakest track on the record- it sounds like something CTI might have put out in the 70’s. I suspect that this is not necessarily Dundarartun at his best, unlike the other participants who have clearly brought their best compositions along to the party.

It’s left to Puerto Rican guitarist Roy Guzman to close the album with his own “Desahogo”, a clever composition featuring some tricky lines for trumpeter Dave Neves and tenor saxophonist Tom Wilson. Guzman’s own playing draws extensively from the jazz guitar tradition but still sounds thoroughly contemporary. Bassist Greg Chaplan and drummer Mark Whitfield Jr. offer flexible support on this engaging slice of post bop.

“Birds Of A Feather” is an excellent advertisement for virtually all the artists concerned and for Berklee itself. There is some superb writing and playing here and unlike many compilations the album holds the listener’s attention pretty much throughout. For a collective project this is a convincing artefact in its own right.

I’m loath to pick out individual performances but I think it’s fair to say that the jazz world will be hearing a lot more from these talented young players. On the evidence of “Birds Of A Feather” the future of the music would appear to be in good hands.

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