Internationally acclaimed pianist Shelly Berg releases trio album Alegría featuring new music and reimagined favorites, featuring Carlitos Del Puerto and Dafnis Prieto

Alegría is out July 19, 2024 via ArtistShare

Award-winning pianist, composer and Grammy-nominated arranger Shelly Berg issues Alegría, his effervescent trio gesture featuring longtime friends and collaborators Carlitos Del Puerto on bass, Dafnis Prieto on drums and special guest Melvin Butler on tenor saxophone. Released by ArtistShare, Alegría connects personal stories with the emotive, at times, cathartic power of music. “When music is at its best,” says Berg, “it can create a deep connection between performers and listeners.” 

Engineered and mixed by Carlos Alvarez and mastered by Paul Blakemore, Alegría — the Spanish word for “joy” — transmits layers of emotion, memories, private longings and abundant bliss. Bonding thoughtful orchestration and of-the-moment improvising, the album spotlights brand new Berg originals, and fresh takes on classics from Leonard Bernstein and The Beatles. But the record’s true hallmark is its intentional closeness and sharing between creator and listener. “It’s really important that there’s a relationship between artist and audience,” says Berg. “The more the audience feels included in the music, the better time everybody has — the more opportunity for the music to do what music does — to reach them and move them.” 

A visionary leader in higher education who has served as dean of the University of Miami’s Frost School of Music since 2007 after serving as a professor at USC’s Thornton School for 16 years, Berg has collaborated with jazz luminaries and legendary international artists, including Gloria Estefan, Arturo Sandoval, Steve Miller, and Pharrell Williams, among others. He draws inspiration not only from his experiences but also from those around him who share in those experiences and continually invite him to alter his perspective. Alegría, as a project, features conversations and formal interviews with Berg’s fellow artists as well as listeners. “That’s been a really fun part of it,” he says. “Music has a very healing quality — I want people to feel connected to the music and the narrative of the album.” 

Now based in Miami, Berg has expanded his musical influences through performing with artists from the Caribbean and South America who have flocked to the coastal city. He and his wife Julia also share a condo in LA’s Marina del Rey; the time they’ve spent together on the peaceful waterfront serves as inspiration for “Home with You” and “Marina Sunset.” The former’s lyrical buoyancy and elastic groove, emerging from its newly arranged Afro-Cuban feel, translate a certain joy, albeit fleeting, in slowing down and spending meaningful moments with loved ones. The latter’s sweet, soulful piano intro precedes a wistful bossa with elements of tango and cha cha.  

Boundless joy emanates from the album’s title track, a tune Berg wrote while out for a run when he learned he’d soon have a new grandchild: “I turned on the voice memo and while I was still running, I sang the song into my phone including saying what the chord changes were.” Melodic and singable, “Alegría” spotlights a swinging conversation among the artists, plus a spirited first-take solo from Berg and depth of groove from Del Puerto and Prieto, who deliver their own soaring solo gestures. 

“At Last” captures the paradox of love, of finding a true soulmate — that forward feeling of anticipation within a pause of reflection. “Every time I play the coda,” says Berg, “I’m thinking, ‘and forever more.’” 

The trio and Butler showcase their connection to the blues on “Meatballs and Apple Pie,” the greasy funk tune and nod to Ramsey Lewis and Les McCann that Berg contends he wrote “in the time it takes to play it.”  Written for his children — now in their 40s — when they were 7, 9 and 11, “The Joy” shares a new arrangement of what Berg views as “those magic feelings you receive from just being around your own kids.” A new take of its initial recording, this arrangement features a fluid motion and shared reflexes among artists. “Dafnis and Carlitos are so plugged into what’s going on,” says Berg. “They inspire me to play a lot of things but they’re also very plugged in to what I’m playing.” 

Transforming potential energy into kinetic, “Bliss” combines bright rhythmic patterns, melodic displacement and different percussive textures. A highlight of the recording is Prieto’s tantalizing solo, employing only the cymbals. “It’s like you’re on the precipice of something wonderful,” says Berg, “and that’s what I was feeling when I wrote it.” Slightly doleful and enigmatic, “When Next We Meet” honors a challenging period for Berg. The slippery 3/4 feel invokes an internal reckoning with decisions he’s made. “The title refers to when I meet myself again. I was optimistic about that even though I was going through a lot.” 

Berg chose to arrange Lennon and McCartney’s “I’ll Follow the Sun” for his father, the late trumpet player Jay Berg. Interpreting technical facility over a wistful pop groove, the trio leaves plenty of room for breath and reflection. “Red Rocks, Tall Cactus” conjures the sun’s reflections on the Grand Canyon, where Berg once spent hours in awe of each shifting perspective. “It’s kind of a daring song,” he says, “tricky melody and tricky chord changes.” The record concludes on the trio’s moving arrangement of Bernstein’s “Somewhere,” a melody feature for Del Puerto. “The song is indescribably beautiful,” says Berg who chose to spotlight the song, unadorned, then allow it to play out. “Don’t gild the lily. It’s perfect.” 

Alegría proffers a more experienced, wiser understanding of joy and all its chambers — sorrow, longing, faith, peace, reflection. “I hope that the whole recording feels like a big narrative made up of smaller ones,” says Berg. “I want people to feel connected to the music and the arc of the album.” 

Tracklisting:

  1. Home With You (5:42)
  2. Marina Sunset (4:52)
  3. Alegría (5:23)
  4. At Last (7:34)
  5. Meatballs and Apple Pie (5:19)
  6. The Joy (6:57)
  7. Bliss (5:43)
  8. When Next We Meet (6:03)
  9. I’ll Follow the Sun (5:26)
  10. Red Rocks, Tall Cactus (6:43)
  11. Somewhere (3:45)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *