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