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CD & Download: CD Baby

Jackson BERKEY (b.1942)
21 st Century Romantic
Rainydark and Fireflight from Suite for two pianos (2003) [7:30]
Time Twisters;
Samba-Rhumba Walla-Walla [2:02]
Sakura [4:13]
Delaware Bay Ice [1:58]
Beach Caterpillar [1:43]
Bernadette’s Salsa Egg Dish [1:38]
Vivaldi’s Winter from Hood Canal Pastels [4:48]
No. 5 in D Major, Dorian - Sunny Blues [4:29]
No. 12 in G-sharp Minor - Homage to Sergei Rachmaninoff [7:29]
No. 22 in G Minor [4:06]
No. 23 in F Major - Playin’ in the buff [3:45]
No. 24 in D Minor [3:57]
Suite for two pianos (2003-07) [23:20] ²
Playin’ in the buff [3:25] ¹
JJ’s Toy Box [13:25] ³
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Sonata in E Major, Opus 109 [21:55]
Jackson Berkey (piano and harpsichord ¹)
Bobby Kunkle (piano) ²
JJ Toy (piano) ³
rec. William Schmoller Music Mansion, Omaha. (Beethoven rec.1988)
SDG RECORDS SDG091-2 [47:43 + 62:10]

Experience Classicsonline

Jackson Berkey has composed widely for a variety of forces, choral and instrumental included. He’s also a pianist, and has notched up an impressive several decades service as keyboardist with Mannheim Steamroller - of Christmas albums fame (try Wikipedia for details, or the band’s website).
The music on this double album - let’s stick with old time nomenclature - catches him in wholly pianistic mode. Rainydark and Fireflight is from Suite for two pianos which is heard in its entirety in the second disc, but its first appearance on side one comes in a version for solo piano. It’s a warmly nostalgic opus with reflective, refined textures - in places filigree - but also with rich chords, suggestive triads and plenty of limpid, pliant Gallic suggestibility. Berkey collected some of his pieces into ‘Time Twisters’ and we hear six of them. Samba-Rhumba Walla-Walla - groovy title - is extrovert, jazzy, with plenty of rhythmic charge, whilst the following piece is deliberately contrastive, being an evocative quiescent piece conjoined with tuned wind chimes. He investigates Japanese hues in Sakura but really goes to town in Delaware Bay Ice which generates a motoric Boogie beat. Cannily constructed this selection of pieces also includes the rippling arpeggios of Vivaldi’s Winter.
Honouring traditional forms, as he also does, Berkey is an assiduous composer of Nocturnes and plays five of his set of 24. Jazz and Blues hues illuminate No.5 whilst 15 is explicitly dedicated to Rachmaninoff; melancholy is the ethos, with deep bass bell tolls; the melody line at around 3:00 actually sounds a little like Leo Sayer’s When I Need You. The F major Nocturne is redolent of hymnal Americana. In general though, the influences range from the obvious Rachmaninoff, to Debussy, and maybe Copland.
We hear the whole of the Suite in its two piano version, where Berkey is joined by young protégé Bobby Kunkle. There are certainly minimalist grooves in the work but its warmly textured central movement - the one we heard in the first disc in its solo guise - gives it emotive ballast. The work’s memorial cast indeed deepens in the finale, in a kind of affecting recessional, and ends in a gauzy, hazy quietude. Very satisfying. Berkey plays Playin’ in the buff on harpsichord in disc two; you can hear it in a modified piano version in its guise as the F major Nocturne noted above. I prefer the delightful harpsichord version. The buff of the title refers to the ‘peau de bouffle’ or ‘buff’ stop which simulates a lute. I suspect Berkey himself remained fully clothed.
JJ’s Toy Box refers to the youthful Master Toy himself who plays alongside Berkey in these two piano pieces. There are amusing Keith Jarrett moments, as well as Pop ones, waves and chime overdubbing, Debussian harmonies, and lots of action and enjoyment. Finally there is a 1988 recording of Berkey playing Beethoven’s Op.109 sonata. He takes the theme and variations finale very slowly indeed, with a gentleness that sometimes almost comes to a full stop.
Berkey’s music is engaging, thoughtful and amusing, and he’s been well served by the recorded sound.
Jonathan Woolf  

Editor's note: The label that this recoridng is published on has nothing to do with John Eliot Gardiner's label.

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