The hardest working avant jazz sax hero in the business turns out his most accessible...
Peter Marsh 2002-11-20
Tim Berne belongs in a long line of alto saxophonists who've developed a highly indivdual approach to writng music; Ornette Coleman, Eric Dolphy, Anthony Braxton, Henry Threadgill and Steve Coleman are a few that come to mind. Like Threadgill and Coleman in particular, Berne's work is tough, knotty stuff.
On The Sublime And he's with a quartet comprised of long time guitarist Marc Ducret, drummer Tom Rainey and keyboardist Craig Taborn, caught live in Switzerland earlier this year. To be honest I've found some of Berne's previous records a bit hard going, but this one's different. Taborn's lush Fender Rhodes and cosmic electro blips give these complex, restless compositions a spacey lyricism that makes them easier to absorb.
There's still a lot going on though; the longest piece clocks in at over half an hour, and you have to wonder at both Berne's compositional ingenuity and the stamina of his bandmates. There's no fannying around; the music is constantly being examined, dissected and pushed by the quartet. Berne's hard nosed alto leads the way through clattering, assymetric funk, pointillistic improv and full on progjazz thrash.
Berne's solos are better than ever; like Braxton, he's probably as indebted to Alban Berg as Charlie Parker or Julius Hemphill, tempering a chessplayer's logic with sweetly passionate blasts. Ducret is fantastic; he does impressionistic washes, Derek Bailey-esque scrabbling and proggy skyscraping ecstacies by turn. His solo on "jalapeno diplomacy/traction" is seat of the pants stuff. Pushing and pulling at the fierce undertow of Rainey's percussive onslaught, he fires off volley after volley of dirty abstract fusion licks with a desperate energy.
Likewise, Rainey understands Berne's rhythmic conception intimately.He couples it with the technical ability of a drummer with more than two arms.You get the impression that this is a band at the top of its game. The audience seem to think so too, and David Torn's clear, powerful production puts you in the room with them. Which, judging by the evidence, was a very good place to be that night.