...Ultimately rather unsatisfying.
John Eyles 2007
Guitarist David Torn is unpredictable and changeable, not only has his music changed over the years, it also changes from track to track. His last ECM album, Cloud About Mercury, was released in 1987; Prezens is all but unrecognisable as by the same person. It finds him in the company of Tim Berne on alto sax, Craig Taborn on keyboards and Tom Rainey on drums.
Torn’s methodology is to record hours of collective improvisation and then to remix and reshape it into a final collage. If a section doesn’t last long enough, he’ll loop it to stretch it out; if one instrument appeals but the others don’t, he’ll pull it out and build something new around it.
The resulting music is eclectic. Most often it mixes heavy rock and funk, with jazz a rarity. “Rest And Unrest” seems an anomaly, the only track with vocals - a laid back recitation ('Rest and unrest derive from illusion…') over a steady rhythm. “Miss place, The Mist...” has strong eastern influences; a drone gives way to a bluesy riff on acoustic guitar, accompanied by tabla. Several short tracks just feature a trio, omitting Berne, and are all anticlimactic. By contrast, the two longest tracks are easily the most successful; significantly, these give most time and space to Berne. “Neck-Deep In The Harrow” is notable for its opening and closing passages that border on ambient sound. And the closing section of “Structural Functions Of Prezens” peacefully accommodates all four players, with great stuttering sax and strangled guitar.
If you have preconceptions about the way an ECM release should sound, be prepared to have them blown away. The sound here is bright – even brash – and the rhythms fizz along, driven by Rainey’s cymbals. The soundscape is distinctive, but it can be crowded and hyperactive too, with the players jostling for attention, which can make tiring listening. Typical of this is “Transmit Regardless” (a significant title?) on which Berne fights to be heard over fuzz guitar and cymbals.
This is an album of interesting tracks – some excellent – that doesn’t quite gel and is ultimately rather unsatisfying.