Open Country

Paul Berner
Open Country
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Jazz Journal International, Great Britain
April 2005
By Richard Palmer

A most engaging, musicianly and often quietly surprising date. Berner's credentials include a spell with Monty Alexander, and the fact that the pianist happily appears as a guest is a clear testament to how much he rates his ex-sideman. Both Landesbergen and Verhoeff emerge as musicians of real individuality, taste and drive, and the programme - a judicious mixture of standards and originals (mainly penned by the leader) - is as satisfying as it is wide-ranging.

Top marks for originality go at once to the first track of real substance (the opening Grace is just 48-second hors d'oeuvre). Berner and his colleagues fundamentally deconstruct My Ship, and while careful to keep Weill's incomparable lines in mind, weave a series of subtly thrilling harmonic and melodic variations into them. I can also enthuse about Berner's own Omaha (and its exquisite brief Reprise) and Open Country, and everyone serves Steve Swallow's Falling Grace with similar distinction.

Despite all those (and other) quartet riches, it is the duo tracks which stir the most. On the full reading of Grace the pianist demonstrates anew that he can be a lyric poet of great delicacy as well as a virile stomper, while Rose underlines his profound affinity with Nat Cole in addition to showcasing Berner's redoubtable gifts. Alexander's Trust and the bassist's Playground are no less absorbing, the former affectingly contemplative but unmistakably muscular amidst its beauty, the latter appropriately jaunty but intriguingly voiced, crowned by a superbly judged ending.

One always wants to support emergent talent, but at times it is hard to do so unreservedly. That is not the case here. Open Country is a distinguished debut by a superior talent, and this BMP (= Baileo Music Productions) issue is warmly recommended.


Jazz Review, USA
2005
By John Doll

American-raised Paul Berner has worked with not only jazz luminaries as Monty Alexander and the Lionel Hampton Orchestra, but with many northern European jazz artists. Berner has lived in the Netherlands since 1990, but Open Country sounds as if the place he's dreaming about is the Great Plains of America.

Kurt Weill's My Ship is arranged in a very simple format in which the music speaks to open spaces and the nuances of the landscape details. It is a beautiful, reflective piece. You can almost feel the wispy breeze and the sway of the tall grass. Berner's own Omaha touches a more ominous tone of a small city noir. Corn-fed crooks on the make? Local pharmacists brewing their own concoction? Confederate Christians plotting? This might be counterbalanced by the innate gorgeousness and righteousness of American traditional, Amazing Grace. Anchored by Berner, this spiritual is played with affection and serious respect. By comparison, old, familiar Ramblin' Rose feels more mundane; a wistful romp about a fading and endangered place like an independently-run breakfast joint or drugstore or grocery.

The album concludes with two complementary pieces. Heartland has a sweet, quiet reverence for the spaces that Berner perhaps remembers and his European compadres can only imagine. Interestingly, the finale is Duke Ellington's In My Solitude. Berner and band transform the original mood of urban alienation into a seemingly rural piece of affirmation.

Open Country is an accomplishment. It is subtle, slow with complex emotion of a place that Berner must have mixed feelings. You might not be able to go home again but you can certainly dream and muse about it.


Cadence Magazine, USA
December 2004
By Michael Coyle

Paul Berner's Jazz career took off with a roll of the dice: he'd been making his living playing classical music when, in 1978, he decided to concentrate on Jazz. No doubt that was a bad move fiscally, but it has been great for his art. In 1979 he won a place in Red Rodney's quartet and from there went on to the Hampton organization, and thence to Monty Alexander's trio.

Apart from Frits Landesbergen's vibes, there's only a little trace of those beginnings here. Even though Alexander figures on this album, his playing shows a sustained endeavor to fit into Berner's aesthetic. Berner's music swings, but his music is both more lyrical and more intellectual than that of his aforementioned employers. There's a gentle quality to this music, an interest in the distinct resonance of the individual instruments. This is a bass-led ensemble that is not dominated by either bass or even by the rhythmic drive. The absence of horns means that there really is no front line here; piano, guitar, vibes, bass (but maybe not drums) all take turns as the lead voice.

The handful of standards, by Ellington, Weill, or Noel & Joe Sherman fit in easily with the originals, or with Monty Alexander's and Steve Swallow's compositions. In My Solitude closes the album quietly, even though the tempo is rather more brisk than what one ordinarily finds here. Berner's bass makes the initial melodic statement as well as the first moves away from it; but even here it is not much forward in the mix. Subtle, understated swing, such as is characteristic of this album as a whole. The work here is unlikely to please listeners who want their music, well, bracing; indeed, it might remind some listeners of what might be heard in a tasteful New Age Shop. But, personally, I think this music is more than that. The playing is accomplished and the arrangements leave the players space to be heard. So, this album may not make history, but it may very well make for plenty of pleasant Sunday afternoons.


Heaven, Belgium
March-April 2004
By Jo Didderen

Americana-Jazz

Jazz fans know Paul Berner mainly as a member of the Gerard Kleijn Group. On this splendid album the Dutch American takes on the roll of band leader. Bassists quite often have the tendency in their solo projects to want to showcase themselves as virtuosi; Berner is luckily not that pretentious. Because, although the bass is beautifully recorded and mixed somewhat in the foreground, on Open Country it's all about the group sound and the strong compositions. Berner's originals are beautiful, sometimes melancholy songs that fit in seamlessly with the selected standards. In terms of mood the CD is comparable with projects by Charlie Haden and Pat Metheny: it is jazz, but the wide open American landscape is never far away. The Calexico-effect or something like it in any case. With vibraphonist Frits Landesbergen , guitarist Ed Verhoeff and drummer Dré Pallemaerts Paul Berner has assembled a group of wonderful musicians around himself. Special guest Monty Alexander (piano) makes the party complete. Purely as a soloist Berner falls a little short now and then, but his beautiful warm sound, his strong work as accompanist, and especially his lovely compositions more than make up for this small criticism. Open Country is simply a beautiful CD.


Financiële Dagblad, Holland
21 February 2004
By Hans Dijkstal

Lying alone and listening to the number In My Solitude has an extremely calming effect. Of course it has to be played just right! On this CD you just dream away on the sweet sounds of vibraphonist Frits Landesbergen and guitarist Ed Verhoeff. And let's not forget bassist Paul Berner, the leader of the group. Berner says that he combines simplicity and emotion in his music. And that's the way it is. Especially in the four numbers he plays with pianist Monty Alexander. In his own compositions he turns out to be a Romantic. That in turn had an infectious effect on the other musicians here. Berner has been working in Holland for the last ten years. Before that, in the United States, he played with Monty Alexander's trio among others. This musical reunion was a good idea.


Trouw, Amsterdam, Holland
17 January 2004
By Armand Serpenti

Certainly, when you don't see the musicians playing, but only hear them, the structure and sequence of the repertoire is a deciding factor for the how the music holds your attention. Very often too little consideration is given to this point. On his new album Open Country American bassist Paul Berner proves, with a varied cast of quietly intense musicians, that it doesn't have to be that way. Long time resident of the Big Apple, he played there with a virtual army of historic jazz greats, like in the trio of Jamaican pianist Monty Alexander. Ten years ago Berner came to Holland and since then his sober but sure tone has formed a welcome anchor for many a lowland jazzer. On Open Country he is accompanied by Frits Landesbergen on vibraphone, Ed Verhoeff on guitar and Dré Pallemaerts on drums. After four numbers he brings on Monty Alexander with whom he plays in duo for four tracks, and then he rounds off the CD with again the quartet. An album filled with instrumental songs, full of contrast and without pretension. Steve Swallow's Falling Grace forms the high point with the sound of the vibraphone falling as a colorful water curtain over a threatening, minimalist bass line.


Haagsche Courant, The Hague, Holland
16 January 2004
By Bert Jansma

This is no 'loud mouth' jazz; it is refreshingly musical and sensitive in its deceptively simple approach. On Open Country bassist and leader Paul Berner is above all a man of softly moving melodies and subtlety. In fact he has put together two different bands for this album. He plays with pianist Monty Alexander, his one-time boss when he played in his trio. And then there is the group including vibraphonist Frits Landesbergen. The alternating cast of players works perfectly, giving the feel of a through-composed whole even though the styles of the various numbers are very divergent. Alexander swings as always, sounding almost like a music box on Amazing Grace and leaning towards a gospel approach on his own composition Trust. Vibraphonist Landesbergen performs subtly without showing off and with no excess of ego. The same goes for everything here: pretty without pretension, never shallow, subtle in its color changes. Guitarist Ed Verhoeff has been making a name for himself as a top musician with an extremely personal approach no matter what style of music he plays. Melodically splendid and original single-note lines (Kurt Weill's My ship), with sometimes minimal accompaniment made up of shimmering broken chords. Berner wrote four of the tunes himself, including the beautiful title tune and a playful and swinging duet with Alexander (Playground). And there is that gorgeous Heartland by drummer Steve Altenberg. Ellington's In My Solitude - played in an unusual tempo - puts the finishing touch to this pleasantly surprising CD.


NRC, Rotterdam, Holland
31 January 2004
By Frans van Leeuwen

Being a bass player and on top of that having to wait until you're fifty before you make your first album under your own name seems a little like double jeopardy. However, while listening to Open Country, you don't get the idea that anyone is suffering very much. While living in the USA, the American-Dutchman Paul Berner played with 'everyone', and that does have certain advantages. His repertoire runs from the traditional Amazing Grace to his own compositions, and his role as instrumentalist is just as broad.

With guitarist Ed Verhoeff in the Kurt Weill composition My Ship, he lays the melody out in a clear and relaxed manner and in his own piece Omaha he plays a driving 'walking bass' part. The fact that he is assisted in four pieces by his former employer Monty Alexander is a bonus but the Berner quartet, also including Frits Landesbergen on vibraphone and drummer Dré Pallemaerts, is lively enough in its own right.


Jazz Flits
January 2004
By Rolf Polak

On this new release with the very appropriate title Open Country - Paul Berner's first under his own name - a fresh sparkling sound greets your ears, as if emanating from a wide-open space.

I often feel that, on albums with a contrabassist as leader, the player of this instrument is pushed into the foreground in a somewhat contrived manner. But there is not a trace of this on Open Country. Indeed, the group of musicians put together by Paul Berner for this album gives complete support to the influences acquired by Paul during his varied and impressive career. For example, Paul has played in America with big names like Dizzy Gillespie, Milt Jackson, Stan Getz, Peter Erskine, Les Paul, Joe Lovano and many others.

In addition he was also a member of Lionel Hampton's Orchestra for two years and of the Monty Alexander Trio for another two.

That's why it's a nice touch that Paul's former employer Monty Alexander also plays on Open Country, along with Frits Landesbergen (vibr), Ed Verhoeff (g) and Dré Pallemaerts (d).

Open Country contains 13 exquisite pieces, each one more beautiful and appealing than the next. At the same time, Paul Berner proves with this album that he is not only a wonderful bassist with a gorgeous sound, but also a superb composer as, in addition to the title tune, there are 3 other outstanding numbers from his hand.


Haarlems Dagblad, Haarlem, Holland
27 December 2003
By John Oomkes

...The American bassist Paul Berner (Red Rodney, Lionel Hampton, Toots, Jesse van Ruller), living at the moment in Haarlem, and his former employer, much-lauded pianist Monty Alexander, first make a gospel party out of (Amazing Grace) and then, to keep the metaphor going, a high-spirited bit of Second-Line from New Orleans.

On this tasteful record Berner distinguishes himself with a broad repertoire and with the choice of musicians for his band. So Ed Verhoeff provides the laid-back, dreamy guitar sound on which Kurt Weill and Ira Gershwin's My Ship floats. Falling Grace by Steve Swallow gives Berner's dancing fingers room to move.

As a composer, Berner is an omnivore: one hears influences of African music, country music and neo-bop. The title tune makes beautiful use of the sound of vibraphonist Frits Landesbergen; in Omaha he too gets to come up to speed.