Saturday, March 5, 2011

Sangeeta Michael Berardi

Sangeeta Michael Berardi (guitar; b. 1939)
Earthship (Sunjump Records; 2008)
Hilliard Greene (bass)
John Esposito (piano; drums)
Peter O'Brien (drums)
James Finn (sax; flute)

I think we can all name at least ten musicians who have been lost in record rakes of time for one reason or another. It's a shame because a lot of these artists created some stellar and in many cases unbelievable pieces of art. One such musician is Sangeeta Michael Berardi.

Berardi's career has encompassed being a promoter, painter, poet and performing with the likes of Rashied Ali, Archie Sheep, Roswell Rudd, Sonny Simmons among others in the '60s, '70s avant garde. The strange thing is Berardi's playing isn't necessarily avant garde. Berardi also didn't record many albums (two from what I can find) as leader although he did perform allot as sideman. So what we have is one highly sought after debut from the '80s and his most recently released Earthship (Sunjump Records).

Earthship was actually recorded in 1996 but not officially released until 2008. Sangeeta Michael Berardi as you will hear was highly influenced by the latter works Coltrane but crafted his own vision of that Far Eastern spiritual sound into dreamlike soundscapes that are truly phenomenal. Berardi's style might be somewhere between Carlos Santana and John McLaughlin's work on their Coltrane inspired collaboration, Love, Devotion and Surrender and McLaughlin's work on Bitches Brew. But the difference here is his raw quality that runs throughout Earthship.

The opening title track is a real full throttle journey in sound as Berardi weaves a nice thread between mood setting groove and electric firestorm. Finn and Esposito both rise to challenge with some nice improvised moments throughout the piece. "Coltrane Lights Our Way" really highlights Sangeeta's mastery on the guitar. The tune sways onward and upward with some fierce assistance from O'Brien on drums. This might be the closest Sangeeta comes to sounding like Santana without the overbearing theatrics. But there are also some rock elements running inside this piece that really set Berardi's style apart.

"Trane's Church" is another display of Berardi's blistering sound world while the gentle tandem of Berardi and Finn (this time on flute) on "Evening, Woodstock" add a gentle and soothing element to the high spirited tracks that proceed it.

Probably the head-turner of the session is the closing number, the legendary "My Favourite Things". While John Coltrane's version of the Rodgers & Hammerstein classic has become a benchmark in jazz circles, Berardi's version certainly needs to be recognized as completely different take that is rich, inventive and stellar in its execution. It's pulsating, passionate and modern while all wrapped in a divine layer spirituality. It would make Coltrane proud and probably have Rodgers & Hammerstein cringe. I love it.

Earthship is a work similar to Berardi's debut that is seeking a much higher devotion than just the one in the studio or the one coming out of your speakers. It is truly hard to believe that this record was recorded in 1996. Considering the time period there were very few albums like it at the time (the closet I could think of was David S. Ware's Wisdom Of Certainty). And listening to Earthship now you would have thought it was recorded two months ago.

Sangeeta Michael Berardi has been ill for quite some time now and it would be great for people to discover his music now. Earthship contains the kind of thinking music people actually crave but can't find. A real treasure.

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