The first thing you notice about the new Paul Berner CD Running Outside is how closely the packaging resembles a Pat Metheny project. A quick trip to his website affirms that someone in his record company’s marketing department thought "Ah Ha!" and matched color schemes, fonts and photos to subconsciously steer the demographic into likening the record to PMG music before the initial listen.
A bonifide confirmation is immediately struck with the first note of the opening tune "Shirts and Skins." Paul’s acoustic bass glides atop Hans van Oosterhout’s staccato drumming while guitarists Peter Tiehuis & Ed Verhoeff excellently skate through a Methenyian melody. You anticipate a familiar ride!
This album is very impressive. Paul Berner, who now resides in Holland has certainly been around the block and back. He’s worked with Dizzy, Hamp, Stan Getz, Peter Erskine and Joe Lovano to name a few. His bass is clear, articulate and full of imagery. The quartet he’s assembled is immaculate and is able to convey a ‘bold sensitivity’ with every phrase.
Neither the CD liner notes nor his website provide information on which equally talented guitarist is playing lead or rhythms on which song, so you’re left to speculate and it’s shameful because when the wonderful effects on "Bent Fender" transform the song from an 11 AM Sunday Mornin’ Iowa sing along into a Midsummer’s Manhattan Night groove, you’d definitely like to give the guy his props.
The band’s version of Gershwin’s "I Loves You Porgy" although sincere, doesn’t arouse you until the guitarist’s subtle counter-melodies adjust the atmospheric conditions to bring a postmodern perspective to this jewel of a classic.
A cover of Springsteen’s "Ain’t Got You" is no more a 6-minute jam session, albeit fun and very groovy. You feel as if the band is set up on a back porch somewhere in the open country, whittling away at the time and allowing the muse to guide them over the repetitive analogy.
"Five Dollar Down" is the all out Rock Fest with a tantalizing guitar melody and wicked solos. Hans van Oosterhout’s tom work is very clever in keeping a softer dynamic to stay in line with the scope of the album, thus keeping the band within the reins while letting them get loose.
"The Great Divide" epitomizes the hallmark of the Berner’s writing skills and is my favorite tune. It’s a song that takes the necessary time to highlight his virtuoso playing and interaction with the agile guitar work. The drummer’s brushes and cymbals radiate a kind of wonderland experience that whisks you along with ease. The irony of this excursion is that there is no clear-cut melody line for you to sink your teeth into. It’s a perfect statement about a moment in time that exists ‘just because.... ’
But if it’s melody you’re after, you’re certainly in for it on the title track "Running Outside" and you’ll likely hum and/or sing it well after the song ends. The combination of electric and acoustic guitar gets under your skin and whisks you in to a split tempo, split personality of rough and smooth, wet and dry, sugar and salt anomalies of what one might witness when, well running outside, through the trees, over the bridge an by the river. Great tune!
The concluding track "Old Model A" is a slippery waltz that collects the thoughts of its performers as reverb drenched guitars ease in and out against the gritty pavement of the drummer’s brush stained snare. Berner’s bass is emboldened and solid providing the perfect summation to a wondrous story, but like every great author, he’s content to let the characters speak for themselves as well they do with whispering wisdom.
If you have a shred of appreciation for Pat Metheny, you will be drawn into the obvious web these guys have spun to captivate your senses. Although this is by no means a ‘copy cat’ album, you’re provided with the same wide-open sensibilities of small towns, prairie fields, brisk starry skies and fiery jazz guitar. You almost wish for a Lyle Mays passage, but these great players stand on their own, without a single keyboard or synth in sight and they provide a darn good time. This is a highly recommended album.