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Reviewers: Don Mather, Tony Augarde, Dick Stafford, John Eyles, Robert Gibson, Ian Lace, Colin Clarke, Jack Ashby

JOHAN BERKE: Upstairs Five

The Cactus Suite

Gason Jazz CD 731 [54:00]



Short but sweet no 5 (Berke) [0:25] 2
Two in one (Berke) [8:11] 1
Worm (Berke) [2:34] 1
’Round the corner (Berke) [9:07] 1, *
Loose ends (Berke) [7:33] 1
Short but sweet no.6 [0:43] 2
The Cactus Suite: 1
Part 1: Varieties (Berke) [8:38] *
Part 2: Heat (Berke) [4:20] *
Part 3: Desert Night (Cleveland / Berke) [5:44] *, **
Part 4: In Bloom (Berke) [6:21] *
Örjan Hultén (tenor and soprano saxes)
Fredrik Nordström (tenor and alto saxes)
Johan Berke (electric guitar, 12 string acoustic guitar)
Filip Augustson (bass)
Fredrik Rundqvist (drums)
With guests:
Jan Eriksson (lap steel guitar, pedal steel guitar) *
Barry Cleveland (soundscape: tape) **
rec. 1 11, June 2005, Glömsta Studio; 2 29 August 2006, studioupstairs

This is a constantly intriguing album, occupying a distinctive musical territory. There are some lyrical passages reminiscent of what has often been lazily described as the ECM sound (there never was one such sound); there are some acerbic dissonances; some free jazz blowing; some passages that sound like rather complex arrangements; there’s solo guitar; there are electronic sounds on tape; there are moments of precise, quasi-boppish unison playing, there are moments of fierce heterophony. It is, indeed, very eclectic, but it all hangs together and is played throughout with an impressive sense of group interaction.

Berke doesn’t hog the limelight, though his phrasing and note selection are always interesting, not least on ‘’Round the Corner’ and on the four parts of his ‘Cactus Suite’. Jazz motifs and echoes of Frank Zappa seem to fall under his fingers with equal readiness and the sense is of an inventive musical mind, restless but with a distinct sense of direction. The music has lots of energy, though it is never expressed in merely crude fashion.

The drum work of Fredrik Rundqvist, subtle, attentive, dealing in complex cross-rhythms but always complementing, and never overwhelming, soloists, is a constant joy on the CD. The bass work of Filip Augustson is rarely foregrounded, but he too makes a substantial contribution to the seeming ease with which the group exchanges musical ideas; his is an important voice in the musical conversation. Both saxophonists play with fluency and, where appropriate, attack. I would have appreciated some information as to who plays tenor on which tracks. Jan Eriksson’s lap steel guitar and pedal steel guitar add some rich textures to the tracks on which he plays.

The Cactus Suite was commissioned by the Bergius foundation for the tenth anniversary of the Edvard Anderson Greenhouse in Stockholm. I trust it was played in the greenhouse? Readers might also care to know that ‘’Round the Corner’ is "dedicated to the Bears at the Stockholm Zoo, Skansen".

The whole CD impresses by the musicianship of all involved, the inventiveness of much of the writing and playing and, above all, by the cohesiveness of the group. One’s pleasure is increased by the clarity of the recorded sound.

Glyn Pursglove


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