Recorded on August 11 and 12, 2006 at the Smoke Jazz and Supper Club in New York City, Live At Smoke from Challenge Records shows the David Berkman Quartet to be valuable asset of progressive jazz thinking. The spontaneity and cohesiveness of Berkman’s unit is palpable from the dangling sprigs of Berkman’s piano keys to the flash floods made by Jimmy Greene’s saxophone in "Weird Knack." The quartet uses their space prodigiously, whipping up dazzling expressions and colorful dynamics. The music is clearly a product of the musicians individual personalities, and when they mesh together, shots go flying and the instruments wires get tangled producing unique sonic portraits guided by the impulses of these four musicians.
Impulse is the operating factor in the quartet’s dynamics even through the classic jazz motifs of "Simple Pleasures" as shots of impulse can be heard in Berkman’s piano keys and Greene’s jet-streams. The moonlight shimmers of "Along Came Betty" is accentuated by the playful bounce of Berkman’s keys making the track a pure swing number through and through. The slinky saxophone phrasing along "Hidden Fondness" is smooth and glistens softly as Berkman’s peppy palpitations decorate the number in pearly frills. The pensive mood of "Carroll Street Pop Tune" is shrouded in gently splayed saxophone twirls ad lightly dotted piano keys, which transform into a network of sizzling patterns along "The Mayor Of Smoke," a tune named for Ugonna Okegwo, a magnetic bassist who used to hold court at Smoke and one that Berkman greatly admired.
Berkman’s quartet is knee-deep in traditional jazz motifs and over their heads in progressive-jeweled patterns. They are fueled by new ideas and motivate each other to move freely while complementing each other’s movements. It’s a very Gil Evans type of environment where each musician comes in with their own ideas while remaining true to the main themes of the tunes. Berkman’s quartet is adept at channeling their impulses and making it all sound natural and free flowing without being too eccentric or boxed in jazz traditions. They found a middle ground between traditional and progressive jazz that fits their personalities real fine.