Jeff Berlin 2022
Throwing his own creative zeal into the still-boiling cauldron of classic, and sometimes obscure, numbers, fusion stalwart calls kindred spirit to play and lay laurels at the altar of their fallen hero.
Inspired by The Fabs’ “Love” whose collage mirage revealed the previously concealed links between various strands of a single tapestry and created fresh imagery out of familiar elements, Jeff Berlin may have applied a similar approach to his homage to Jack Bruce – only the American bassist also ventured way beyond what’s often considered a tribute offering but turns out to be a bunch of covers with stellar guests’ parts sprinkled all over a sonic product for best commercial visibility. Despite the plethora of luminaries present here to highlight its melodic veneer, this record is different in many an arresting aspect. It’s not about the sparkling surface in terms of tune inherent to the latter, great late JB’s pieces; it’s about the depths of the classic cuts that the former JB’s plumbing in the company of friends. Yet again, it’s not simply about the bottom end.
Of course, one would feel tempted to read the title of the album’s finale as “Fumus” – meaning “smoke” or “vapor” and related to the word translating from Latin as “lower” or “further down” – while, in fact, the nicely patinated, resonant track Jeff co-penned with Jack’s writing partner Pete Brown to intimately intonate is called “Fuimus (We Have Been)” which is the Bruce clan motto: usually understood as “We were once kings” and, thus, reflecting the very gist of this record. It’s all about the memorable motifs and their composer’s continual consistency that facilitated Berlin’s rendering of two “Harmony Row” numbers as a portmanteau and enhancing the resulting wonder of “Smile Story And Morning Grins” through the “bass relay”: a successive runs of no less than eight of his esteemed colleagues – Tony Levin, Billy Sheehan, Michael League, Mark King, Ron Carter, Marcus Miller, Nathan East and Geddy Lee – taking the listener from electric rumble to acoustic rustle and back. As such, it’s not about instrumental or vocal showcase – as the brass-splashed medley of “L’Angelo Misterioso” will demonstrate with a lot of gusto, because except for the piece’s “Cream Jam” stampede, where Scott Henderson’s licks and Gary Husband’s beats receive the “Never Tell Your Mother She’s Out Of Tune” momentum from Sammy Hagar, there’s a piano quote from “Tickets To Waterfalls” woven into the groovy fiber by Jeff, the platter’s principal ivories driver, with crystalline vibrancy, to contrast the crashing waves of Jack’s most prominent ensemble.
Celebrated in opener “Creamed” which sees Berlin’s four strings form the “I Feel Free” riff and Alex Lifeson dispatch a flurry of fiery notes into the patchouli-scented potpourri of “Politician” and other funky cuts that’s propelled, along with majority of the tracks, by producer John McCracken’s guitar, Bruce’s ’60s material is swept aside in favor of his solo oeuvre – this brilliantly understated tribute’s true focus. Once it’s shifted, the delicate panache of “White Room” and “Spoonful” can make room for the majestic “Theme From An Imaginary Western” and let Ron Hemby’s voice shine and Eric Johnson’s passages elevate the aural painting and send the canvas to Jeff and Gregg Bissonette to punctuate, before “A Letter Of Thanks” – referencing the main figure of "Aqualung" and having Pat Bergeson’s harmonica and Michael Whittaker’s Hammond join in the bluesy fun – and “Rope Ladder To The Moon” – drenched in fusion thanks to Ron Thal – find Alex Ligertwood swing at the microphone. Still, after their jive’s been hushed, the magnificent, mélange-like take on “One Without A Word” arises to allow Berlin dive into Bruce’s supreme, solemn balladry which Bill Frisell’s patterns help embroider, whereas the translucent, transcendental “Folk Song” locates beauty with no fretboard, but earth-shattering Jeff’s, in sight.
So when his harp-rippled “Traintime Time” – loosely based on Jack’s concert wigout – comes in to chug frivolously towards jazz-land, tribal chant and Bumblefoot lines, the whole scope of this album becomes apparent: that’s how homages should be done. A tribute to a master, it’s a masterpiece unto itself.