Review: Chris Bergson Band – Live At Jazz Standard

Posted on: Monday, Feb 17, 2014

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Chris Bergson Band – Live At Jazz Standard

(2 Shirts Records: CD1005)

The very excellent Chris Bergson first came to my attention with his ‘breakthrough’ album in 2008, “Fall Changes” – which was named as “Mojo” music magazine’s album of the year, and deservedly too . . . this fine writer, singer and guitarist from Brooklyn, NYC – now based in Manhattan – is pretty hard to ‘pigeon hole’, with his superb music covering blues, jazz, soul and classic rock flavours – the latter maybe from playing with a legend like the late Levon Helm from The Band.

On this recently-released live album, recorded at Jazz Standard  on ‘home turf’ in NYC over two nights in June last year, Bergson and his excellent band revisit some of his back-catalogue alongside eight new songs – and what a joy this is! Apart from Bergson on vocals and electric and acoustic guitars, the band comprise: Craig Dreyer (organ and Wurlitzer), Matt Clohesy (bass) and Tony Leone (drums and backing vocals), and an absolutely crack horn section of Ian Hendrickson-Smith (baritone saxophone), Freddie Hendrix (trumpet) and David Luther (tenor saxophone), with guest vocalist, the soulful Ellis Hooks.

The driving opener “Greyhound Station” get the release off to a rocking, but funky start – it’s one of many co-writes between Bergson and his wife, Kate Ross – it shows the tightness of the band with fine guitar work and soloing, and  a tough vocal from Chris Bergson; the following “Mr. Jackson” is a horn-drenched soulful affair, highlighting Messrs Hendrickson-Smith, Hendrix and Luther, as well as the immaculate rhythm section of Matt Clohesy and Tony Leone. Ellis Hooks contributes a joint vocal on “The Only One”, which he penned with Bergson and Ross, with the horn arrangement of Jay Collins giving the tune a classic Stax feel . . . and very reminiscent of the late, great, one and only Otis Redding.

The music takes a major change in direction with “Heavenly Grass” – Chris Bergson taking a Tennessee Williams poem, and putting an acoustic Delta blues feel to his self-penned music, with the drums of Tony Leone featuring, and a spotlight for a fine Wurlitzer solo from Craig Dreyer. The gentle “Chloe’s Song” is a delight, with its summery feel, and again acoustically flavoured, with one of the best vocals on the album. The whole band get funky again on Ronnie Shannon’s “Baby I Love You, with some spiky lead guitar lines from Bergson and the punchy horn section again to the fore.

Elsewhere, the soulful ballad “Just Before The Storm”, penned by Bergson together with Craig Dreyer and Ellis Hooks, is another standout, with a beautiful fluid guitar solo; the whole ensemble hit a New Orleans groove on the superb “Christmas In Bethlehem, PA”. The album ends on a high note with two of the cuts from “Fall Changes” – the jazz-tinged “The Bungler” and the ode to his old-stomping ground on “Gowanus Heights” . . . a blistering end to a most enjoyable release, from its punchy horns, funky keyboard playing, driving rhythm section . . . and above all Chris Bergson’s exemplary guitar and vocals.

Needless to say, this comes highly recommended . . . and it would be great to see a more extended visit to our shores!


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(Photographs by Ahron R. Foster)

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