I have had the opportunity to hear guitarist / vocalist Chris Bergson and string bassist Neal Miner three ways recently: in their short film, “The Making of Play Date”; at a live session at 55 Bar on Christopher Street, Greenwich Village, New York — and (most conveniently for my readers), their new CD, PLAY DATE:
It’s a superb disc — and since it doesn’t have any liner notes, I feel obliged to supply a few lines to explicate and praise. Readers of JAZZ LIVES will know how much I admire Neal — he is both supple and steady, and his lines make elegant sense without being fussy. He never expends flurries of guitarish notes and his bass always sounds down-to-earth. A melodic fellow who swings! Chris was new to me, but Neal and he go back a decade, and he is just as much a melodic swinger as his pal on the upright . . . whether he’s playing acoustic, electric, or singing in a surprisingly let-it-all-out way.
One of the nicest things about this CD — and there are many — is the middle course it steers. Guitar / bass duets sometimes turn into sweet Easy Listening or cutting contests (I can play faster than you can; I can run up and down the fretboard like a wild bunny) — or they are attempts to create ornate orchestral textures. Chris and Neal choose naturalness over artifice — so that the disc has the sound and heft of two brilliantly relaxed friends making music for themselves or, at most, a few friends — the site someone’s living room.
No studio tension, no fancy miking or reverb, no inserts or punches: just music.
And the music is wonderfully varied — from Monk, Rodgers, Van Heusen, Berlin, Schertzinger, Schwartz — to Ray Charles and a few originals. Within that tune list, all sorts of delicious surprises await: the Bergson / Miner duo is aware of a variety of musical shapes: the twang of early Fifties rock, the saltiness of Roger Miller, and some deep-down blues. They offer the verse to THESE FOOLISH THINGS. It’s hugely entertaining music and I didn’t look at my watch once.
Here’s a link for MP3 downloads: Play-Date and the link to CD Baby for those in that frame of mind: chrisbergsonnealminer. And while we’re energetically stacking up links, here’s one last one — to the YouTube video — from someone’s blog: jazzlives. With music this fine, “attention must be paid.” By the way, the absolute best way to purchase this CD is to encounter Neal or Chris on an actual gig and give either of them some cash and walk off with a real CD: this way, the money is going directly to the creators. But you knew that already.