Albums

Tom Berge Trio: Push It!

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Posted on 17th July 2017

Tom Berge Trio

Push It! album

June 2017 

Tom Berge is a young jazz pianist playing in Bath and Bristol, making a name for himself on the local gigging scene. His ascent has been steady and, though he has largely stuck to solo and trio piano gigs he has shown a sense of exploration within that format; he has led a Latin jazz night at a Bath club for over a year, playing with the best Latin rhythm sections.

Push It! is Tom’s debut album and, accordingly, it is a piano trio album, not retro, but entirely within the noble tradition of the acoustic jazz piano trio. And in that tradition, he summons some unusual masters to inform his style. 

Tom has the luxury of a terrific rhythm section to build on: Chris Jones on double bass and drummer Mark Whitlam. Both play perfectly, Jones driving the beat while Whitlam sits in the pocket as he manages the dynamics and arrangement shifts like the master he is. 

The style of Tom Berge, as with all modern pianists, is hard to pin down. With such an accumulated wealth of jazz piano from a century available, there is rarely a player who just emulates one. But through it all, Tom Berge emerges as a distinctly rhythmic and soulful pianist more than an introspective, cerebral type. He’s got a groove. 

Sometimes the fluidity of his right hand will make you think of Oscar Peterson, sometimes the space he leaves will recall Ahmad Jamal; there are times when his playing over Latin rhythms and his right hand chords makes me think of Vince Guaraldi, an underrated pianist who, for all I know, Tom may have never listened to. Another pianist I thought of while listening to Push It! was Ramsey Lewis, one of the few jazz piano players to have a Top 40 hit single, The In Crowd in 1965, and who is still alive and playing today. 

Almost every track has a propelling groove, whether the two Latin numbers or the loping groove of the title tune. On A Clear Day is a terrific arrangement of that standard and rides in on riveting groove set up by Mark Whitlam. Mark is prominent throughout the album; Chris Jones too, with several excellent solos.

Of the eight tracks on this album, there is only one ballad, You’ve Changed, and it is gorgeous. It is harmonised beautifully and delicately, little melodic runs bursting through the dreamy chords. It is followed by an absolutely storming version of Lester Leaps In, made famous by Charlie Parker. Berge sets a fast tempo then plays single line solos over it like a bop horn player. It burns and it’s a great tune to end the album. 

Push It! is an impressive debut and unusual, a lively album that will wake you up rather than put you in a dreamy reverie. Worth having for that alone!

Charley Dunlap

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