By John McDonough | Published September 2017
This music flows so smoothly and often unobtrusively through these two CDs that it’s easy to overlook the intricacy, detail and sheer intelligence that binds it together. Not that such estimable qualities should always be calling attention to themselves, but they deserve at least to be acknowledged and appreciated. It’s hard not to be drawn into the snap and polish of Christian McBride’s walking bass line on “All Too Real,” which is instructive on the power of sheer simplicity. And Gregory Hutchinson’s drum work on the same track is tight, disciplined and full of crisp, sharply articulate rhythmic ideas.
But out front it’s Peter Bernstein and Brad Mehldau who have been frequent companions over nine CDs since their first joint work in the early ’90s. They command the main ground here in a program of extended originals, mostly by Bernstein and five of which are now part of his own personal, and previously recorded, songbook. “Blues For Bulgaria,” “Jive Coffee” and “Dragonfly” all go back to Bernstein’s ’90s output, while “Useless Metaphor” and “Let Loose” are from more recent projects, and Monk’s “Pannonica” reprises his album of the composer’s work nine years ago.
Bernstein is a guitarist so good he often sounds like two guitarists in a duet. It reflects a mastery that is elegant, mellow and gently swinging, but not especially surprising. This is music that can linger tactfully under civil conversation, yet has the kind of reserved power to invite closer listening when the conversation grows tedious.
Signs LIVE!: Disc One: Blues For Bulgaria; Hidden Pockets; Dragonfly; Jive Coffee; Pannoncia. (76:11) Disc Two: Useless Metaphor; Let Loose; All Too Real; Resplendor; Crepuscule With Nellie/We See; Cupcake. (69:33)
Personnel: Peter Bernstein, guitar; Brad Mehldau, piano; Christian McBride, bass; Gregory Hutchinson, drums.