Primary Instrument: Piano
Pianist, composer Frank Carlberg is a native of Helsinki, Finland. Following some years of classical studies, he became interested in jazz after listening to his father’s recordings of Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington and Oscar Peterson. Initially, Carlberg tried to imitate the players of the records and then took some lessons from local jazz musicians. In 1984 Carlberg decided to enroll at Berklee College of Music in Boston. While at Berklee he played with fellow students such as Jim Black, Chris Cheek, Antonio Hart, Sam Newsome, Chris Speed, Ben Street, as well as faculty members Robert Freedman, George Garzone, Hal Crook, Herb Pomeroy and John LaPorta. During the summers, in between the academic years at Berklee, Carlberg toured in Europe extensively with various groups.
After receiving his Bachelor’s degree from Berklee in 1990, Carlberg decided to continue his studies at the New England Conservatory of Music. While at the Conservatory, he came under the influence of jazz masters such as Paul Bley, Ran Blake, Geri Allen and Jimmy Giuffre. The music and thinking of these musicians had a profound impact on Carlberg and set him on a path in search of a personal expression. Carlberg received a Master’s degree from the New England Conservatory in 1992.
It was in 1992 that Carlberg finally released Blind Drive (Accurate Records) • his first recording as a leader. This was a trio effort featuring Ben Street on bass and Michael Sarin on drums with a program consisting of mostly original compositions. It was through this recording that Carlberg’s music initially caught the attention of the critics. Jon Andrews describes the CD in DownBeat as “sophisticated, approachable music played with both freedom and discipline”. Carlberg’s next recording, Ugly Beauty (Northeastern Records), was a duo recording with vocalist Christine Correa. This was to be the first of many collaborations. Ugly Beauty was a mix of folk music (Indian and Finnish) as well as free improvisations, original compositions and jazz repertoire reflecting the eclecticism and influence of Ran Blake. Paul Robicheau writes in the Boston Globe that “……it would be hard to find an album as gorgeous and sophisticated as Ugly Beauty”.
The second release on Accurate Records, The Crazy Woman, was of particular importance for Carlberg’s artistic development, as he began his extended quest in setting music to poetry. The material consisted of 11 original songs composed to texts by 20th century poets such as Jack Kerouac, Anselm Hollo and Anna Akhmatova. The recording featured a quintet format(voice/sax/piano/bass/drums), which was to become the core of several future projects. Dan Ouellette praises this CD in DownBeat as “…..both a romp and a haunt, joyful and grey, The Crazy Woman streams with nourishing beauty”.
On his following recording ,Variations on a Summer Day (Fresh Sound ), Carlberg chose to highlight one poet and one extended poem. Out of Wallace Stevens’ poem, Carlberg created a song cycle consisting of 13 parts. The original quintet from The Crazy Woman was augmented by trombone, clarinet/tenor sax and alto/bass clarinet. In All Music Guide David Adler wrote that Variations… “brilliantly captures Stevens’ imagery”. For the second Fresh Sound release, In the Land of Art, Carlberg returned to the quintet format with voice, saxophone, piano, bass and drums, occasionally augmented by a second saxophone. The music again featured settings to poetry, this time by Robert Creeley, Anselm Hollo, Kenneth Rexroth, etc. Elliott Simon from All About Jazz states that “with its on-the-mark musical, vocal and piano interpretations, adventurous rhythm section explorations and expressive dual sax playing, Carlberg has shown that sh*t can flow uphill In
The Land of Art”. One of Carlberg’s most fruitful collaborations has been the duo project with another Finnish ex-patriate New Yorker, drummer/composer Klaus Suonsaari. In rapid succession, the friends have recorded two duo albums, Offering (KSJAZZ) and Fallingwater (KSJAZZ). In his Downbeat magazine review for Offering, Bill Milkowski described the axis of the Carlberg-Suonsaari as “two kindred spirits that demonstrate an easy chemistry together, marked by a healthy blend of humor and fearlessness.” In 2004 Carlberg was commissioned to write two pieces, Heaven and a re-composition of I Got Rhythm, for a special release by Fresh Sound Records; The Sound of New York Jazz Underground • a double CD set featuring music by eight composers associated with the label. Mark Sabbatini described these pieces in All About Jazz in the following way: “Gershwin inherits a Hummer on Frank Carlberg’s tour of I Got Rhythm; a dark series of abruptly shifting free segments. Heaven takes a poem by Robert Creeley and gives it an ‘Andrew-Lloyd-Webber-pens-acid-jazz-for-the-circus’ spin”.
Frank Carlberg has carved himself a niche in the jazz community. His own bands aside, the Brooklyn-based pianist has been involved in many crossover projects throughout the years. Some of his most notable collaborations have included performances and recordings with the likes of saxophonist Steve Lacy, trombonist Bob Brookmeyer and trumpeter Kenny Wheeler. He has been commissioned to write music for big bands, small ensembles, symphony orchestras as well as modern dance companies. In addition to his playing and composing activities Carlberg also serves on the faculty at both New England Conservatory and Berklee College of Music and leads workshops regularly at the Pop/Jazz Conservatory in Helsinki, Finland.