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Karl Berger

Idioma disponível: inglês
Internationally renowned German pianist, vibraphonist, composer, and educator, Karl Berger rose out of the free jazz movement of the 1960's and helped to pioneer a broader, more globally-minded approach to modern creative improvisation. Largely influenced by Ornette Coleman's "freebop" playing, Berger's style was marked by strong single-note improvisations songs with melodic themes framing open chordal and modal sections. He and Coleman became colleagues and, along with Berger's wife vocalist and collaborator Ingrid Sertso, co-founded the Creative Music Studio in Woodstock, New York, bringing together students and innovators from around the globe. Berger played with trumpeter and Coleman-associate Don Cherry in Paris, before emigrating to the U.S. in 1966. There, he cut his debut album, 1967's From Now On. He was also part of John McLaughlin's historic 1970 avant-fusion outing When Fortune Smiles and released a series of acclaimed duo albums, including 1979's Just Play with Ed Blackwell. Although Berger remained quite busy throughout his career, teaching and leading workships, he found time to record, working closely with Blackwell and Dave Holland in the '80s and '90s. He made his Tzadik debut with the 2010 solo piano outing The Strangely Familiar and joined with Michael Bisio, Mat Maneri, and Whit Dickey for 2022's MBefore, one of his final albums prior to his death in 2023. Born in 1935 in Heidelberg, Germany, Berger began playing piano at the age of ten. As a young adult, he landed a gig as house pianist for jam sessions at the local Club 54. There he accompanied such visiting American players as Leo Wright, Lex Humphries, and Don Ellis, learning, in the process, the complexities of modern jazz. In 1953, he met and eventually married singer Ingrid Sertso, forming a lifelong romantic and creative partnership. Along with earning a PhD in musicology, Berger took up the vibes and developed an interest in free jazz, especially the recordings of saxophonist Ornette Coleman. In 1965, he joined trumpeter and (early Coleman group member) Don Cherry and his Paris-based quintet. The group traveled to New York the following year to record Symphony for Improvisers on Blue Note. It was around this time that Cherry first introduced Berger and Sertso to Coleman, who became a close friend and mentor. The couple stayed in the U.S. where Berger recorded his first album under his own name, From Now On, released on ESP in 1967. From 1967-1971, he played educational demonstrations in public schools with pianist Horace Arnold's group, and led his own ensembles. In 1970, he released Tune In under Karl Berger & Company, a group with longtime Coleman-drummer Ed Blackwell, bassist Dave Holland, and saxophonist Carlos Ward. That same year, he joined guitarist John McLaughlin and saxophonist John Surman on the avant-fusion album, Where Fortune Smiles. In 1972, Berger, Coleman, and Sertso, formed the Creative Music Studio in Woodstock, New York. The school was geared toward encouraging young students to explore their own creative ideas rather than imposing traditional jazz concepts upon them. Teachers at the school included Jack DeJohnette, Sam Rivers, and Anthony Braxton, among many other prominent musicians. He continued to release his own albums, including 1972's With Silence, 1977's Interludes, and 1979's Seasons Change. In the summer of 1982, Berger led a 28-piece big band at a "Jazz and World Music" concert as part of that year's Kool Jazz Festival in New York. Berger cut back on his teaching, shutting down the CMS facility in the mid-'80s, although workshops, live performances, and other activities have continued into the 21st century, with the latest version of the CMS having attained nonprofit status as part of the Creative Music Foundation. A major endeavor of the foundation was the CMS Archive Project (undertaken in collaboration with the Columbia University Center of Jazz Studies), including a series of albums of historic recordings from the studio's heyday, whose first volume saw limited-edition release to foundation members in February 2010, followed by a general release through Planet Arts Recordings in April of that year. In the years immediately following the CMS' initial dissolution, however, Berger became more active as a player, first embarking on a world tour in 1985-1986, during which he served as a guest conductor and composer for the West German Radio Orchestra in Cologne. Berger also participated in percussion festivals in New Delhi and Bombay, and served as a pianist in a duo with the African percussionist Baba Olatunji. Berger continued recording in subsequent years, working as a sideman on sessions with guitarist John McLaughlin, saxophonist Lee Konitz, and bassist Alan Silva. (He had also played on Carla Bley's late-'60s recording of Escalator Over the Hill.) Of Berger's later recordings as leader, 1987's Transit (with Ed Blackwell and Dave Holland) and 1990's Around -- both on Black Saint -- were well worth seeking out. During the '90s, Berger led several more dates for a variety of labels, and during the new millennium he emerged as an arranger, often working in conjunction with producer/bassist Bill Laswell, for pop/rock and world music artists including such notables as Jeff Buckley, Natalie Merchant, Better Than Ezra, the Cardigans, Shin Terai, and Angélique Kidjo. But he never stopped recording on his own. After the duo outing Karl Berger + Paul Shigihara for L+R in 1991, he reunited with Holland and Blackwell on Enja for the acclaimed Crystal Fire. In 1994 he cut the double-length Conversations for In+Out, a series of duos with Holland, James "Blood" Ulmer, Ray Anderson, Carlos Ward, Mark Feldman, and Sertso. Berger spent the rest of the decade writing and leading workshops. When he did resume recording under his own name, it was in a trio setting with saxophonist John Tchicai and bassist Vitold Rek on the globally acclaimed 2 X 2 in 2001. A year later, he released Still Point, featuring a larger ensemble with wife Sertso, saxophonist Peter Apfelbaum, bassist John Lindberg, drummer Tani Tabbal, and others. Duets 1, a duo album with bassist John Lindberg, arrived in 2006. In 2010, Berger released his first album for Tzadik, comprising solo piano miniatures and titled The Strangely Familiar, as part of the label's prestigious Composer's Series. He also guested as a session player on Black Crowes' guitarist Rich Robinson's Through a Crooked Sun. In 2012, he and guitarist Dom Minasi released the acclaimed Synchronicity for Nacht Records. While 2013 saw Berger appear on recordings with Slide Hampton, Mossa Bildner, and Philip Gibbs, the following year saw Gently Unfamiliar, his sophomore date for Tzadik, in a trio with bassist Joe Fonda and drummer Harvey Sorgen. Also in 2014, he commenced a touring and recording partnership with saxophonist Ivo Perelman that resulted in three acclaimed outings: Reverie as half of a duo, The Art of the Improv Trio, Vol. 1, which also included drummer Gerald Cleaver, and The Hitchhiker, another duo offering released in 2016. In between, Berger cut the double-length live and studio offering Moon with trumpeter Kurt Knuffke, for No Business. In 2018, Berger issued Interfaces: Jazz Meets Electronics, where he played vibes in a trio with drummer Joe Hertenstein and electronicist Jeff Morris. Under his own name, Berger also issued In a Moment, his third outing for Tzadik with bassist Ken Filiano and a string quartet that included violist Jason Hwang, with whom he teamed for the duo set Conjure, issued late in 2019. MBefore, a quartet date with Michael Bisio, Mat Maneri, and Whit Dickey arrived in 2022. Karl Berger died on April 9, 2023, ten days after he celebrated his 88th birthday.
© Matt Collar & Chris Kelsey /TiVo
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