Tuesday, March 19, 2019
Ben Bierman's Some Takes on the Blues
Most jazz lovers understand how this genre intersects with the blues, and how the two mesh perfectly together. Trumpeter Ben Bierman "takes" this a step further by playing on the very idea that jazz can expand the repertoire by playing on the typical 12-bar constructs. On Some Takes on the Blues, Bierman has a consider amount of fun inserting blues into a wide variety of musical genres--Latin jazz, ragtime, country and, of course, rock and roll. The trumpeter also plays with the traditional 12-bar structures by expanding into 32-bar blues ("Pretty Blues") and even 48-bar blues ("Let's Chill One"), but accomplishes all this in such an easy, laid back way, opting for simplicity whenever he can.
Bierman's a bit of an academic--he's an Associate Professor at the City University of New York, and he has written several essays and articles. He's even published a book called Listening to Jazz. That informs his approach to this music to a certain extent--Some Takes on the Blues is calm, controlled and thoughtful. But Bierman also balances that out with a fierce enthusiasm that only a true jazz musician can lay out, something that probably resulted from sharing the stage with everyone from Johnny Copeland to B. B. King to Stevie Ray Vaughn to Archie Shepp.
Let's take this meticulous structure on step further--Bierman is also a multi-instrumentalist. In addition to his remarkably clear trumpeting, he also plays guitar, piano and bass. While he has help from guitarist Andy Reiss and drummers Willie Martinez and Emanuel Bierman, you're hearing a lot of Bierman in this songs. When you hear him grab his old acoustic guitar and play his heart out on "Leo's Rag," or when he delivers a smooth solo piano performance on "Blues for WC," you can almost imagine him in his classroom, jumping from instrument to instrument, showing his students how it's done.
"The blues has been the one constant in my musical life--in many ways everything I have to say filters through it," Bierman explains on the liner notes. While music is often performed by those who "play how they feel," to paraphrase Donald Fagen, a cerebral approach to jazz is often equally rewarding, such as when performers such as Miles Davis experimented with modal jazz in the late "50s. Thoughtfulness and rigor can earth many new discoveries, and Ben Bierman seems like the kind of musician who will pursue this approach for the rest of his life.