Jazz Guitarist Peter Bernstein Releases New Version Of 'Signs Live!'

Aug 10, 2017
Originally published on August 11, 2017 3:37 pm
Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Veteran jazz guitarist Peter Bernstein created one of his best pieces of work more than 20 years ago. It's called "Signs Of Life." Now music reviewer Tom Moon says Bernstein has released a riveting update, "Signs LIVE!"

(SOUNDBITE OF PETER BERNSTEIN'S "BLUES FOR BULGARIA")

TOM MOON, BYLINE: Peter Bernstein was a college student when he was discovered by the jazz guitar legend Jim Hall. It was the summer of 1990. And after performing with Hall on several festivals, Bernstein's career took off. Within a few years, he recorded "Signs Of Life," the album that established him as an important voice. It featured Bernstein playing his originals and standards with pianist Brad Mehldau, bassist Christian McBride and drummer Gregory Hutchinson. The new album documents that same band playing live 20 years later.

(SOUNDBITE OF PETER BERNSTEIN'S "BLUES FOR BULGARIA")

MOON: "Signs Of Life" was hailed by critics, but the group never performed live. Even then, Bernstein remembers, it was impossible to find an open date. These four musicians were already on the jazz fast track, touring and recording with big names, headlining clubs. He made another attempt a few years later, and it was the same story. He persisted. And in January 2015, it finally happened - a three-night run at Jazz at Lincoln Center. The two-disc "Signs LIVE!" captures the third night.

(SOUNDBITE OF PETER BERNSTEIN'S "DRAGONFLY")

MOON: The new album, which took two years to get released, is something more than a reunion. It's a perspective on the evolution process in jazz. During that 20-year interval, each of these musicians were refining their skills as improvisers, honing their instincts on gigs with legends and upcoming firebrands. When they met again on the bandstand, they were fundamentally different musicians.

(SOUNDBITE OF PETER BERNSTEIN'S "CUPCAKE")

MOON: Bernstein plays with more rhythmic assurance than he used to. No matter how technical his lines might get, they're executed with a smooth, authoritative precision. Christian McBride and Hutchinson show new appreciation for clean burning, nothing-fancy swing. And Mehldau appears determined to tear up every last jazz convention. He develops intricately knotted lines with a freewheeling abandon.

(SOUNDBITE OF PETER BERNSTEIN'S "HIDDEN POCKETS")

MOON: The songs on this live record are super long. Most last over 12 minutes. Not every solo belongs in the highlight reel. But when these guys are playing together using all available resources to chase new musical vistas, what transpires is often riveting. Here's hoping we don't have to wait 20 years to hear them do it again.

(SOUNDBITE OF PETER BERNSTEIN'S "LET LOOSE")

CORNISH: Peter Bernstein's latest album is called "Signs LIVE!" Our reviewer is Tom Moon.

(SOUNDBITE OF PETER BERNSTEIN'S "LET LOOSE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.