By Ralph Burnett
Bob Berg has never had his records accidentally filed in the New Age bin. Tough he first achieved wide public notice through his compelling work with Miles Davis' band from 1984 to 1987, Berg was exploding with an intense brand of hard bop that stirred adoration or angst, (and not much in between), long before that. In 1973 he replaced Michael Brecker in Horace Silver's band for a three year stint, and George Coleman in Cedar Walton's band for five years following that.
Riddles (Stretch STD-1111) marks Bob Berg's ninth album as a leader. It is of little surprise that Berg is extending his creative canvas on the innovative label co-owned by Chick Corea and his long time friend and manager, Ron Moss. It is actually the germination of a seed that was planted long ago. "Chick was playing a gig in Montpelier, France, and I was there doing a clinic," recalls Bob. "Chick saw that I was in town and told me to bring my horn to the show and sit in. We played about three or four tunes together at a big concert hall and at the end of it Chick whispered in my ear, 'To be continued.' Eight years down the line he called me for a tour with his Akoustic Quartet."
It was during this period in 1993 that Berg recorded his first Stretch release, Enter The Spirit, a blazing return to his acoustic jazz roots after a successful quill of contemporary of releases for the Denon label. "The four records I did for Denon were more eclectic in terms of the grooves and moods they went through [one of them, Back Roads, was nominated for a 1992 Grammy Award]." The solo records Bob recorded for Denon during this period nicely parallel who he was hangin' and bangin' with -- the recording and touring unit known as the Mike Stern / Bob Berg Band. This all-star musical association consisted of long standing musical partner, guitarist Mike Stern, bassist Lincoln Goins and drummer Dennis Chambers.
From easily recognizable influences of Brazilian, Latin, American Folk, Eastern European, reggae and cajun, the many directions of the tracks on Riddles make this sound more like a collection than a concept album. "Basically, I think of this record more as a series of impressions than as a blowing session," says Berg. "We felt less under the gun to impress people with chops on the one, so we just went with what felt good at the time. I think the result is a record that is very listenable and reflects a wider range of my own musical tastes."