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The American Dream by Frank Carlberg

Pianist and composer Frank Carlberg, who grew up in Helsinki, Finland, has a Bachelor’s degree from the Berklee College of Music and a Master’s degree from the New England Conservatory of Music. While he lists the influence of great performers and teachers like Paul Bley, Ran

Blake, Geri Allen and Jimmy Giuffre, Carlberg’s performance and compositional style is more cosmopolitan than one would expect from such an assemblage. He has performed with a wide range of artists including saxophonist Steve Lacy, trombonist Bob Brookmeyer and trumpeter Kenny Wheeler. In addition to leading his own bands, Carlberg currently teaches at both his alma maters.

American Dream is a 12-part song cycle that sets the poetry of Robert Creeley, who unfortunately passed away before the completion of the composition, into an artful jazz context. The cycle was commissioned by Chamber Music America through their New Works program.

Singing the lines of text is Christine Correa. A native of Bombay, India, Correa, who today lives in New York City, has worked with Steve Lacy, Ran Blake, and John LaPorta as well as having toured internationally. Her clear non-Indian accented voice is powerful and her ability to sing Carlberg’s angular and rhythmically difficult lines is pristine. Within Carlberg’s world Correa’s voice is more an instrumental color than a focal point needed to come to understand the music. Singing lines that both lead and fulfill the part of accompanying parts, Correa demonstrates not only her acute abilities as a musician but also Carlberg’s dexterity with regard to writing music that both goes inside the jazz tradition and is, at the same time, classically oriented with regard to the song cycle conception of the European classical composers of the 19th century.

Saxophonist Chris Cheek plays amazingly poignant and skillfully colorful lines throughout. His solo on "We Get Crazy" moves back and forth between forward-thinking concepts and jazz’s traditional swing conception. In his duo solo with Carlberg on "There.... ." Cheek finds a way to craft avant-garde lines that are both in total lockstep with Carlberg’s solo and still inside of traditional harmony. The ability of the two to communicate and trade motivic fragments, as well as move forward individually, is exceptional and worth the price of the disc on its own. As a performer Carlberg is everything you would expect from a graduate of Berklee and the New England Conservatory; skilled, technically proficient and soulful.

The rhythm tandem of John Herbert on bass and Michael Sarin on drums lay down a foundation so tight you can’t imagine an army recruit pulling sheets any tighter in boot camp. Herbert’s solo on "Loop" is the model of understatement and Sarin’s continual emphasis on playing within the music, instead of on top of it, shows him to be a sympathetic and vital participant in Carlberg’s intricate compositions.

This disc is not for everyone, but for those who long for jazz music of compositional and improvisational substance that goes beyond the pale; this is a statement not to be missed.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Frank Carlberg
  • CD Title: The American Dream
  • Genre: Free Jazz / Avante Garde
  • Year Released: 2008
  • Record Label: Red Piano Records
  • Tracks: We Get Crazy, Speech, Names, “There...,” The American Dream, Loop, Echo I, Sentences, Time, Echo II, Be At That, If Ever There Is
  • Musicians: Frank Carlberg (piano), Christine Correa (vocals), Chris Cheek (tenor saxophone), John Hebert (bass), Michael Sarin (drums)
  • Rating: Four Stars
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