If you haven’t heard of pianist Adam Berenson, it’s not for lack of his trying. Since the mid-’90s, he has released more than 20 albums, three of which feature this trio: bassist Scott Barnum and the veteran drummer Bob Moses, whom Berenson met while studying with Paul Bley at the New England Conservatory of Music. Their last recording arrived more than 20 years ago, but on the double-disc Assemblages
, the musical bonds remain strong enough to have weathered the hiatus — and also to support the dazzlingly eclectic set of compositions that fill this collection.
“The Elusive Ground of Reason” nods to Bley and Herbie Nichols. The freely structured “Majestic Desolation” bathes in tone-color interplay of piano and percussion. The vividly programmatic “Can You See Your Puppet Strings” stutters and jerks like a marionette, and in “Demotic Rhythms,” Berenson festoons the shuffle-rhythm melody with wry country-western fillips. For all that, a guiding delight of Assemblages
is the way the 20 pieces (almost all of them under five and a half minutes) flow from one to the next, or else do a true segue, from lakeside breeze to desert sirocco, for maximum effect.
Berenson’s range extends to his titles; these often point the listener toward people and issues he wants to highlight, such as “Rachel Carson” (a subtle reference to climate change), “Fernando Pessoa” (named for the protean early 20th-century Portuguese writer) and “The Ninth Amendment” (alluding to rights not specifically enumerated in the Constitution). When used to flamboyantly shout “Look what I can do,” such eclecticism, at either the piano or computer keyboard, can be a crutch. But here the variety reveals a lively curiosity as well as rigorous musicianship, offering a fit vehicle to convey Berenson’s intrepid intellect.
Moses plays an especially vital role. A percussion shaman for more than a half-century, he blends sounds and swing with a deep personal juju; even when he plays the same notes and rhythm as other drummers, they carry a warming mystery of his own. The opening “Ideology Is Consciousness,” a free-floating ramble, ends with drums alone, introducing us to the impact Moses will have on the music to follow. — Neil Tesser