Being Out There

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  • Judith Berkson

Some artists are just so far out there that you can't imagine the place where their head lives.

Glenn Gould? Where's that at? Sun Ra? From another planet, he said, and we agree. John Coltrane? Not of this earth, surely.
And then there's Judith Berkson.

Ms Berkson has a new record out on ECM records, entitled “Oylam”. It is the strangest damned thing, an amazing piece of work, and weirder than you could imagine. It doesn't seem weird – she sings songs, plays the piano and the fender rhodes and a wurlitzer, sings some standards and some Jewish songs and adds a translation of Schubert's  Der Leierman, from Winterreise. But if you can imagine all those things filtered through autism central, then you can begin to imagine where we are. It's incredible.

It's so amazing that you think there is no precedent, but actually there is.

The precedent is another strange female musician, the great Annette Peacock. Like Peacock, Berkson's music is tonally strange, but rigorous. And Peacock made an album for ECM records, the label Oylam has appeared on. In fact, one of the great ECM records is a double-cd of Peacock compositions, “Nothing Ever Was, Anyway”, played by Paul Motion, Gary Peacock and – another curious female musician – Marilyn Crispell, who plays piano. Like Berkson. Like Peacock. And like another original and strange musician we all know, Galway's own Julie Feeney.

Good old ECM records: home of the strange, land of the free improvisor. I can't promise that you will like Oylam. But you might.