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JAZZ REVIEW : Bernhardt at the Bakery: the Jazzman as Intellectual

October 21, 1994|DON HECKMAN

Warren Bernhardt ran smack into a perennial problem at the Jazz Bakery Wednesday night: getting a Los Angeles audience to turn out for a relatively unheralded East Coast musician.

Although the New York-based pianist has a ton of jazz and pop credits, including a recent tour with Steely Dan, his local jazz visibility has been minimal, a fact reflected in the small turnout for his opening performance. And that's a shame, because Bernhardt, although a far cry from the more typically hard-swinging New York jazzer, is always a fascinating player to hear.

Looking a bit like a refugee from a seminary, dressed completely in black, with flowing white hair and silver-rimmed eyeglasses, Bernhardt was--both visually and musically--the epitome of the jazzman as intellectual. Deeply influenced by Bill Evans, his soloing emphasized rich harmonic densities juxtaposed against brisk, right hand runs.

As in the Evans trio style, bassist Jay Anderson played the role of equal melodic partner, stretching out in extended solos and moving freely through Bernhardt's chording, while drummer Jeff Hirshfield added understated percussion accents. Standards such as "How Deep Is the Ocean," Evans' own "Time Remembered" and George Young's lovely "October" were explored via complex timbral meanderings and a constant interplay among all three instruments.

There was one problem, however. Unlike Evans, the Bernhardt group never quite managed to generate much forward propulsion. Engaging though it may have been as a kind of abstract exercise in improvisational symbiosis, the trio's music would have been considerably more appealing had its cerebral qualities been balanced with a stronger dose of sheer rhythmic swing. Even so, this is a group that deserves a hearing.

* The Warren Bernhardt Trio at the Jazz Bakery, 3233 Helms Ave., Culver City. (310) 271-9039. $20 entrance charge. The Bernhardt trio plays two sets each night, 8:30 and 10:30, through Saturday.

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