Music has been a lifelong pursuit for Don Berman and Dick Valentine, the Yin and Yang of free improvisation in Seattle these days. Their brand of music, original, striking and moving, plays to connoisseurs of free expression whose musical tastes transcend traditional boundaries. Both cite as a major influence the legendary Al Hood, a Seattle pianist and composer who mentored the city’s experimental jazz scene in the 70s and 80s. Their composition Mendacity, featured in the 2022 Earshot music series Jazz: The 2nd Century, is an example of free improvisation built on motifs and a written script.
“We are trying to tell stories,” says Dick. “We’re musicians. We’re artists. We feel like we have something to say about the society we live in, the world around us, the experienes that we’re having.”
In 2016, Don created an homage to the legendary saxophonist John Coltrane on the occasion of his 90th birthday. He called it Ascension Northwest, a tribute to the Coltrane composition Ascension which signaled Coltrane’s entry into the free jazz realm.
“I used similar instrumentation but I had about 15 different motifs that were improvised on by the whole group,” recalls Don. “And the tutti sections where everybody played, sandwiched in between them were solo opportunities for each member of the band.”
The result is a compelling ensemble piece that would probably have made Coltrane proud.
Hear for yourself in the podcast episode below: