Back Porch

Paul Berner
Back Porch

More Reviews

Jazz Flits
5 November 2007
by Herman te Loo

The 'back porch' of an American house is the place where, surrounded by family and friends, you can do what you like without being bothered.  Bassist Paul Berner, an American living in Haarlem, shares his 'back porch' here with three friends: reed player Michael Moore and the guitarists Peter Tiehuis and Ed Verhoeff. 

The four play songs of melancholy and desire.  And right from the very first track they’re right on target.  In the original ‘The World like It Was’ Berner lets us hear how lovely and fleeting the beauty of the American countryside of his youth was.  Moore’s clarinet does just what it always does: it moves you with its incredibly beautiful sound and unerring feel for melody. 

The music on ‘Back Porch’ moves consistently in the borderland between country, folk, jazz and pop, with songs by singer-songwriters like Chris Whitley and Gillian Welch.  With the presence of no less than two guitarists comparisons with the work of Bill Frisell lurk, but, with the exception of ‘Dust Devils’, that influence remains at a safe distance. 

Of course we’ve known for quite some time that Moore can sing beautifully on his clarinet and alto saxophone (he proves that once again convincingly on the traditional ‘Love Henry’).  But Berner shows he can do it as well, on his contrabass; witness the glowing melody line of Billy Preston’s ‘You Are So Beautiful’ (made famous by Joe Cocker’s version).  Tiehuis (in Moore's ‘Trouble House’) and Verhoeff (in Monty Alexander’s ‘Trust’) solo just as melodically and cantabile.  With ‘Back Porch’ these four gentlemen have produced an absolutely delightful record with a group sound that is, in the Netherlands, absolutely unique, and that can even convert jazz haters to a love of improvisation.

Jazz Mozaiek (Belgium)
October 2007
by Mischa Andriessen

The American bassist Paul Berner, who lives and works in the Netherlands, believes in music that is personal and direct.  He has a taste for catchy melodies and therefore often makes use of folk and pop songs, which he then leaves largely intact without dressing them up with complicated arrangements.  Such an approach can only work with very strong musicians who not are afraid of baring their souls and who dare to put their hearts into the music. Reedman Michael Moore is such an artist, the two guitarists Peter Tiehuis and Ed Verhoeff prove here that they too have that quality.  Naturally the same applies to Berner.  In this way "Back Porch" has become a CD with ‘suspiciously beautiful music'.  Even Billy Preston’s "You Are So Beautiful", which in the original version sounds rather schmaltzy, comes over extremely well.  The fact that the music sounds so pleasant simply testifies to the huge amount of personality and technique.  In America, they say:  "If it sounds too good to be true, it is.” Don’t believe everything Americans say.

Het Parool
11 September 2007
By Maartje den Breejen

Anyone who brings bassist Paul Berner’s newest album home should try to score a hammock somewhere at the same time.  This music is made to be listened to in an oscillating supine position.  The title of the album is, after all, Back Porch, the American name for the veranda at the back of the house.  In contrast with the front porch (the veranda at the front), that has to be kept neat so as not to make a bad impression on the neighbors, the porch at the back of the house is where the inhabitants can daydream away undisturbed or have intimate conversations with family and friends.  The arrangements, written by Berner, an American by birth, have a wide-open, rural feel.  But not sweet; more the type of wide-open and rural where with the passing of time the dusty wind cuts grooves in the face.  The four ‘diamonds in the rough’ who made this country jazz album have an intuitive understanding for each other.  The Joe Cocker cover ‘You Are So Beautiful’ is played here by the four gentlemen without any one of them feeling the need to demand the leading role.  There are also edgier numbers in the repertoire.  Michael Moore plays with a breathy tome on his clarinet and alto saxophone.  And the two first-rate guitarists Ed Verhoeff and Peter Tiehuis beautifully complement each other rhythmically and melodically.  Berner stands as a sentinel over the proceedings.

The Guitarist (The Netherlands)
August 2007
By Martin Zand Scholten

Who is it?
American contrabassist Paul Berner, former band member of giants like Lionel Hampton and Monty Alexander, has been living in the Netherlands for years and is evidently not sitting still.   

What do you mean?
This is the second release of his that we’ve received within just nine months.  Where his previous disk was with guitarists Peter Tiehuis and Ed Verhoeff and drummer Hans van Ooster­hout, now the latter has been traded in for reedman Michael Moore.  Also an American, but to not to be confused with the maker of critical documentaries born in the same year.  This Michael Moore has been in the Netherlands since 1977 and in 1986 received the Boy Edgar Prize for his contribution to the jazz of our fatherland.

What is different?
Well, the drums are gone.  With all due respect for super drummer Hans van Ooster­hout, the addition of a multi-reed player works out well for the combination of contrabass with two guitars.  It makes the sound of Berner’s group more transparent.  And I certainly hope we don’t have to tell readers of a Dutch guitar magazine what Tiehuis and Verhoeff can do on their instruments?  Warning: no frenzied freak-outs from the string players (Berner included), just adult musical ambience in service of the songs. 

Just like on the previous CD you hear a good mix between Bill Frisell-like sounds, country influences and open ambient music, without a touch of corniness.  That’s why the gentlemen dare to take on a tear-jerker like You Are So Beautiful.  While on the last CD Berner wrote most of the tunes, this time around there’s been more borrowing of tunes from others.

Buy it?
Yes, listen to how musicians who have been around the block can make sweet music without feeling they have to show off their (formidable) chops.

Bassist Magazine
July 2007
by Jo Didderen

Back Porch is the third solo album from contrabassist Paul Berner in a relatively short time.  After Open Country ('03) and Running Outside (' 06), Back Porch sounds like part three of the trilogy.  Although Berner keeps on growing, there is unquestionably a unifying thread, which possibly comes from Berner’s American roots combined with Dutch influences.  Whoever listens to this music cannot help but picture the wide open spaces of America, or just as likely - as the title indicates - a typical American porch where music can be made in a relaxed atmosphere.  The Dutch influence can be found in the freedom and playfulness of the whole.  Generally speaking:  American (jazz-)musicians often play with a particular kind of authority, that makes their music quite powerful.  There is nothing wrong with that, but I think it’s too bad that so much of the current American jazz misses a certain vulnerability and intimacy.  And that intimate quality is exactly what Back Porch has.  Because of this, Berner’s music is as poetic as it is down-to-earth, and as powerful as it is unpretentious.  As a composer Paul Berner is a singer-songwriter who doesn’t sing.  His pieces are real songs and fit in seamlessly with the carefully chosen covers.  Just as on Running Outside Berner is assisted here by guitar greats Ed Verhoeff and Peter Tiehuis.  Both are given plenty of room, but their playing always serves the music.  And the sturdy foundation that drummer Hans van Oosterhout laid on Running Outside is replaced here by the wonderful reedman Michael Moore.  Moore in particular comprehends and complements Berner’s introverted playing so very well that you don’t miss the drums for a moment.  In short, Back Porch is once again an elegant and relaxed album from an outstanding bassist-composer.  Well done!

Noordhollands Dagblad
28 june 2007
by John Oomkes

Paul Berner mixes Jazz with Americana

The love for a Dutch woman brought the American bassist Paul Berner to Haarlem.  That’s happened to jazz musicians from across the puddle before.  What makes Berner exceptional is his passion for the wide open spaces of the American Midwest.

This he confesses in a style that is certainly unique in the Netherlands.  Here country- and blues-soaked Americana is happily wedded to improvisation and the ability to tell stories with instrumental music.
Even if they’re by Chris Whitley ('Dirt Floor') or Gillian Welch (' Whiskey Girl') – it’s in this form that they stick with you.  Berner also has a killer band at his disposal.  Reedman Michael Moore, a Dutch-American as well, provides the lyricism.  And the often reserved guitarists Ed Verhoeff and Peter Tiehuis loosen each other up.

Den Haag Centraal
21 June 2007
by Bert Jansma
Paul Berner’s rocking chair

If you listen to the three CDs that bassist Paul Berner has made in the Netherlands back to back, you get a beautiful line, which leads to the heart of his early years in the United States, as well as to an increasingly personal combination of the elements that have populated his musical life: jazz, rock and country.  First you have 'Open Country', his first CD as leader, which has pianist Monty Alexander – in whose trio Berner played for several years– as a guest artist.  Next comes 'Running Outside' with the guitars of Peter Tiehuis and Ed Verhoeff, which takes you on a trip through the Great Plains of America where Berner grew up.  And just released is 'Back Porch' (Twister Records) on which the clarinet of the always fine playing Michael Moore – once again, an American living in the Netherlands – adds a 'vocal quality'.  The rocking chair is there on the porch, and the stories about the 'Whiskey Girl', the ‘Dust Devils', old folk songs and 'The World As It Was' - a piece by Berner himself – do the rounds.  It is romantic, with a dash of Pat Metheny or Bill Frisell in the guitars. 

Berner:  “On this one there are a lot 'covers', as they’re called nowadays.  Written by very different musicians, that somehow, one way or the other, are all related.  Gillian Welch for instance, a singer and guitarist, who writes pieces that seem as if they are American traditionals, folk music almost.  Or a piece by Chris Whitley, a singer that plays National steel-guitar, a sort of 'slide' guitar.  Actually, it’s the kind of music I’ve been listening to for years".

Berner’s musical journey from the Netherlands back to his roots is even more noteworthy, because – after training as bassist in jazz and classical music – he played with the orchestra of Lionel Hampton, at that time with giants like Arnett Cobb, Benny Bailey, Curtis Fuller and Frank Dunlap, and toured internationally with Monty Alexander, after which he eventually made a 'quality or life' choice to stay in the Netherlands.  And there the ‘Americana’ came back into his jazz.  "It took awhile before I realized it myself”, Berner explains.  "I had written some music that sounded a little exotic and I was looking for appropriately exotic titles, Isfahan, Timbuktu, something like that.  Until I suddenly realized that the place names where I come from were often Indian names, names that I found quite normal but that actually are quite exotic sounding:  Minnetonka, Muskogee.  Musically there was also a moment of change.  It used to be I would write something and then I think:  This is no good, this is too simple.  It has to be hipper, more jazzy.  So then I would put some strange chords under it, or ‘improve’ a few notes.  With 'Running Outside', I finally got the feeling:  you know, I should just write it the way I hear it, I could care less if it’s hip or not". 

Because of this, Berner’s jazz has developed a unique sound, more melodic, dreamier, with a – mind you, deceptive – feeling of simplicity.  Music that doesn’t only appeal to a jazz audience.  Berner:  "Jazz music has actually always been simple, crystal clear.  You didn’t ever have to have a PhD in order to understand a good jazz record.  But perhaps ‘understand’ is not the right word.  You just have to offer the audience a way in, so that it can travel along with you.  There is a lot of music that is so self-involved that this ‘way in’ gets a bit forgotten.  In my band things do happen that are quite complicated if you take them out of their context.  But the audience doesn’t experience it that way".