Thursday, February 13, 2014

Time spent in Jay Berliner's room

Like drummer Connie Kay, who we tackled here, Jay Berliner appeared on half of Astral Weeks' eight tracks. His guitar playing is remarkably diverse. On "Astral Weeks," he fills the gaps in Morrison's verses, the airiness of his notes complimenting Richard Davis' weighty bass lines. His classical guitar work on "Beside You" is sharp and immediate, the intricate, lightning-quick melodies magnifying the complex language of Morrison's lyrics. On "Ballerina," he is more subtle, adding just enough color to emphasize the exhilaration and torment in Morrison's vocals.

The song posted above is from Charles Mingus' landmark 1963 album The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady. Berliner's performance on "Group Dancers" is brief (just 25 seconds), but it's a game-changer—his blast of flamenco guitar signals a sudden and total shift in the song's mood. Berliner's playing is confident and sensual, like a woman turning her back and slowly sauntering away from a man and knowing he will follow. It's a lesson in how to do a lot with very little.

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